Editorials, Opinion

Gov. needs to fund mental health

When West Virginia University revealed it had found a public suicide threat, it responded immediately by reminding the letter’s writer and all students that they could seek mental health help at the Carruth Center.

Students scoffed online. The reactions were similar to this past May, when a WVU student died after falling off a parking garage in Sunnyside. Back then, Jacob Pocius, a senior at the time, told The Dominion Post: “Every time something like this happens, they tweet out that number for the Carruth Center and tell us they are here for us, when they’re really not.”

Several students talked about outrageous wait times for appointments — if they were able to get one at all — but some had no choice but to wait. The Carruth Center is free for students, and they couldn’t afford to seek services at a private practice.

It’s with this in mind that we address WVU’s Student Government Association’s request to Gov. Jim Justice for CARES funds to support student mental health. Last Sunday, we featured an essay by SGA members Azeem Khan and Olivia Dowler. In it, they described the association’s attempt to engage the governor in conversation, but had been repeatedly ignored. Their request was simple: The Mountaineer Resilience Project needs financial support for “efforts to expand telehealth services [and] expand the presence of in-person counseling.”

As The Dominion Post reported Tuesday, Marshall is facing a similar crisis: The counseling center there has seen a dramatic increase in demand for services, but there aren’t enough staff and funding to meet the students’ needs.

Meanwhile, Justice still has $127 million in CARES Act funds that must be spent by the end of the month.

Mental health sounds like a good thing to spend it on. Especially since the COVID-19 pandemic has caused or exacerbated many mental health problems.

If Justice won’t dedicate funds to college counseling centers, he should put the funds toward nonprofit mental health services that can serve students and community members equally.

Unfortunately, many health services in general tend to be exclusive: They either cater to the students and not the community, or they cater to the community and aren’t easily reached by students (because of location or price).

There are some mental health services in Morgantown that offer free care, but many of those are geared specifically towards individuals with alcohol or substance abuse problems. What Morgantown needs is a place that can help people who are overwhelmed by life, who struggle with anxiety or depression but not necessarily substance abuse and who can’t afford to go to a private practice, with or without insurance. Such a place could help both WVU students who can’t or won’t go to the Carruth Center and members of the community.

Whether the solution is to fund a new nonprofit or funnel money into university counseling centers, at the very least, Justice should start by listening to advocates who know what’s needed.