Mental Health Resources for Students at UChicago

Following last week’s tragic incident, many members of our community have expressed interest in knowing more about the range of mental health services available to students on campus.

UChicago’s Student Counseling Service (SCS) strives to meet the needs of University of Chicago students in a caring, professional, and confidential manner.

  • Most students who come to SCS have mental health needs that can be addressed on a short-term basis. Students requiring longer-term treatment may be referred to licensed local providers who are skilled and experienced working with students and who have been selected by SCS professionals. If a referral is made, SCS provides assistance in making the initial appointment, and follows up, where appropriate, to ensure that the student’s needs are being met.
  • SCS is a confidential service and will protect student privacy according to federal and state law.
  • SCS continually evaluates its services to ensure the quality of care delivered to students based on what they need and national best practices.

Please refer to the FAQ below for details on the Student Counseling Service.

What is the role of the Student Counseling Service (SCS)?
The Student Counseling Service (SCS) provides mental health care to University of Chicago students. This care includes needs assessment, psychotherapy, psychiatric consultation, the Academic Skills Assessment Program, support groups, referrals, emergency services, and health promotion and wellness programs.

All students and spouses, domestic partners, and adult children of students who have paid the Student Life Fee are eligible for services at SCS, including diagnostic assessment and short-term treatment, as determined by their clinician. The University encourages the use of SCS by anyone who is eligible and may need its services.

How is SCS staffed?
The level of staffing at SCS is comparable to that at other private universities, and well above the national average for all universities the size of UChicago. In order to understand how staffing at SCS compares to that of other university counseling centers, it is useful to compare the ratio of students to providers. In 2016 (the last year for which comparative data are available) the student-provider ratio for SCS at UChicago was 685:1. The national average in 2016 for all universities the size of UChicago was 1,807:1 (according to the 2016 Association of University and College Counseling Center Directors’ Annual Survey).

Who are the providers at SCS?
SCS employs a multidisciplinary and diverse staff of Clinical Psychologists, Psychiatrists, an Advanced Practice Psychiatric Nurse, Clinical Social Workers, as well as administrators. SCS clinicians share a dedication to providing culturally informed mental health services. SCS providers have expertise in a wide range of specialty areas, including: alcohol and other drug use/misuse, eating concerns, LGBTQ mental health, and academic skills support services. Unlike most university counseling centers, SCS has a Psychiatric Team that provides psychiatric evaluations and ongoing medication management. Nationally, in 2016 only 45.6 percent of university and college counseling services offered access to psychiatry (per the 2016 AUCCCD Directors’ Survey).

What kinds of services and resources does SCS provide?
The level of staffing at SCS makes it possible to offer the following suite of services and resources:

  • Urgent walk-in (no appointment necessary) services to students who are experiencing a mental health crisis during operating hours (8:30 a.m.– 5 p.m., M–Fr; 773.702.9800)
  • After-hours and weekend telephone access to a Therapist-on-Call (773.702.3625)
  • Routine initial appointments within five business days
  • Short-term, goal-focused individual and couples counseling
  • Short, medium, and longer-term group counseling
  • Psychiatric services including evaluations and ongoing medication management (typically throughout a student’s time at the University)
  • Anonymous, drop-in counseling through SCS’s Let’s Talk Program
  • The Academic Skills Assessment Program
  • Consultation, outreach, and education to the campus community
  • Referral services

During the 2016–2017 academic year, 19.1 percent of eligible University students (2,602/13,601) received services from SCS. The total number of visits to SCS during the 2016–2017 academic year was 11,912.

How long does it take to get an appointment at SCS?
Students who are experiencing a mental health crisis can walk in to SCS during operating hours (8:30 a.m.–5 p.m., M–Fr) and meet with a Crisis Intervention Counselor (and, if clinically indicated, with a psychiatric provider), without an appointment.

Routine first (“intake”) appointments are offered within five business days, often sooner. During the 2016–2017 academic year, the average was 4.1 days. While SCS will try to offer timely appointments that work with a student’s schedule, students may have to prioritize going to an intake appointment over attending class and other obligations if they want to be seen as quickly as possible.

Students who are reluctant to access traditional counseling services have access to anonymous, drop-in, one-on-one consultations with SCS clinicians through SCS’s Let’s Talk program. Let’s Talk times and locations are publicized on the Student Health and Counseling Service’s website.

After hours and on weekends, year-round, students have telephonic access to a Therapist-on-Call (773.702.3625), as well as to the rest of the University’s emergency response services, such as the Dean-on-Call (773.834.HELP).

In what kinds of situations does SCS refer students to outside providers? Why is that necessary?
SCS is committed to making the best use of available resources, and to serve the entire student community quickly and without a waitlist. The demand for these services is extensive and requires substantial resources. SCS focuses on providing timely access to counseling, and does not provide open-ended, long-term individual or couples counseling.

It is important to note that the majority of student issues can be adequately addressed through short-term counseling (which SCS defines as approximately 6–8 sessions or fewer). A minority of intakes result in a referral to an outside provider. However, when an SCS counselor identifies a need for more intensive or longer-term counseling services than SCS is able to provide, a referral helps ensure that students receive the most appropriate care available.

SCS is able to provide a number of clinical services on a longer-term basis. For example, many counseling groups meet for longer periods of time. And SCS is typically able to provide ongoing medication management to students throughout their time at the University.

Does SCS help students find outside providers?
Yes. When an SCS counselor recommends treatment by an outside provider, the SCS counselor will work with a student to identify possible providers and, as appropriate, facilitate the referral.

SCS is responsible for the mental health referrals to the University Student Health Insurance Plan (U-SHIP) and, as such, maintains a regularly updated list of local providers, many of whom are in Hyde Park. When new providers wish to be added to the U-SHIP community provider list, there is a vetting process. SCS also hosts an annual open house for U-SHIP providers; this is an opportunity for SCS and community providers to become better acquainted with one another, which helps with future referrals.

For those students who have insurance plans other than U-SHIP, the outside providers who may be available will vary depending on the student’s health insurance coverage. Students who have other health insurance coverage will need to access their insurance company’s website to generate a list of local, in-network providers. SCS clinicians will help as much as possible with that referral process.

Are outside providers covered by U-SHIP? What happens if a student cannot afford an outside provider?
Outside providers, including psychiatrists, are covered by U-SHIP. SCS maintains a list of in-network counselors who accept U-SHIP insurance. When the cost of seeing an outside provider (such as insurance co-pays) presents an obstacle to a student receiving services, SCS will work with the student to try to find lower-cost options.

If a student is referred to an outside provider, does that mean they will not be seen at SCS?
Students often continue to meet with an SCS provider for “bridging sessions” until treatment with an outside provider is established. Students who are working with outside providers continue to have access to SCS’s walk-in and after-hours crisis services. Sometimes a student will see an outside provider for counseling, and an SCS provider for psychiatric care. Additionally, a student may see an outside provider for a period of time, and then may return to SCS for additional services in the future. Finally, students who are referred to an outside provider are always encouraged to let their SCS counselor know if there is any difficulty in establishing care with the outside provider, including a desire for another referral.

If students, faculty, or staff are concerned about a student’s mental health, to whom can they turn for help?
SCS is available for consultation 24 hours a day for emergent issues. Anyone with a concern about a student’s mental health is encouraged to reach out to SCS during or after hours for consultation. In addition to SCS’s services, concerned individuals have access to the University’s emergency response services, such as the Dean-on-Call (773.834.HELP).

Do RAs and staff receive training in how to recognize signs of mental distress?
SCS provides annual trainings to all Housing and Residence Life staff, including RAs.

Since 2015, Student Health and Counseling Services has offered Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training for students, faculty, and staff. MHFA is an 8-hour, evidence-based training designed to give individuals the skills to help someone who is experiencing a mental health crisis or developing a mental health concern. Using role-playing and simulations, the course trains individuals to recognize and respond to warning signs and symptoms of a mental illness or emotional crisis. Trainees can better identify those who need help, including those who may be reluctant to seek help, and are made aware of resources, including SCS and the Dean-on-Call program, so they can refer others to those resources. More than 300 faculty, staff, and students have been trained in MHFA since 2015.

Is this training designed to help recognize the symptoms of mental illness? 
Yes. MHFA educates participants on the facts around mental health issues and symptoms, including how common they are, in an effort to inform our community members, reduce stigma of mental health issues, and encourage individuals to seek help. It is vital that students feel supported and empowered to make use of the University’s mental health resources.

If a student is having a mental health crisis, can they get help at SCS?
Yes. Students who need to meet with a counselor urgently are encouraged to walk in during SCS operating hours to meet with the Crisis Intervention Counselor (and, if necessary, with someone from the Psychiatric Team). After hours and on weekends, year-round, students have telephonic access to a Therapist-on-Call (773.702.3625).

If a student doesn’t want to go to SCS, what other options are there?
Students who are reluctant to access traditional counseling services have access to anonymous, drop-in, one-on-one consultations with SCS clinicians through SCS’s Let’s Talk program. Let’s Talk times and locations are publicized on the Student Health and Counseling Service’s website.

Students who would like to be connected with counseling services but know that they would prefer not to receive these services on campus at SCS are encouraged to contact SCS for assistance with a referral to a non-SCS provider. Students with U-SHIP coverage will need to be seen at least once at SCS in order to obtain a referral.

How can SCS ensure confidentiality?
It is entirely the student’s choice whether or not to discuss use of the Student Counseling Service with family (including parents), friends, and University personnel. Other than authorized Student Health and Counseling Services (SHCS) staff, no one will have access to student mental health records without the student’s signed consent. They will not become a part of the student’s academic record, and even the fact that the student came to SCS will not be shared with anyone inside or outside the University without the student’s permission, except as permitted by law.

There are some modest exceptions to the principle of confidentiality, including when a student is assessed to be a danger to themselves or others. In this situation, SCS has a legal obligation to take appropriate action to help ensure a student’s safety, even if that means sharing confidential information. If students have any questions about this policy, they should raise them with their counselor or with Dr. David Albert, Director of SCS.

How does SCS communicate with parents whose children are receiving services?
Except in rare circumstances related to acute risk, SCS providers need permission from a student to communicate with parents about their care.

Sometimes, an SCS provider believes that communication with a parent is clinically indicated, in which case the provider will discuss this with the student. It is up to the student to decide what if any information the provider is able to share with a parent.

How do you evaluate whether SCS is meeting the needs of students?
SCS relies on several methods to ensure that it is meeting the needs of students. These include: the Healthy Minds survey; the Campus Health Needs Assessment (CHNA); guidance regarding best practices from professional organizations, such as the Association of University and College Counseling Center Directors and the American College Health Association; peer benchmarking with Ivy Plus universities; patient satisfaction survey data; and an internal peer review/continual quality improvement process.

If students have feedback for SCS, how do they deliver it?
SCS welcomes feedback from students, parents, faculty, and staff, who can submit their comments and questions through our website.