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Utah State students seek statewide referendum on mental health crisis

By Shanie Howard

Student leaders at Utah State University are asking representatives of other colleges to join them in declaring a statewide mental health crisis.

The request is intended to draw the attention of the Utah State Legislature to a perceived lack of adequate counseling and psychological services on Beehive State college campuses.

“If legislators in Utah know that this is a cohesive effort on behalf of the students in the entire state of Utah, then they will listen to our voice,” said Matthew Clewett, the author of a resolution approved by the Utah State University Student Association executive council on Tuesday evening.

The resolution highlights statistics from the Utah Department of Health, which previously has reported that the state has one of the highest rates of suicide in the nation. More than 100 students enrolled in Utah higher educational institutions attempted to take their own lives during the 2014-15 school year. Fifteen of those attempts were completed, according to one department report.

LuAnn Helms, the assistant director of Utah’s Counseling and Psychological Services program, pointed out during the Tuesday meeting that, according to the International Association of Counseling Services, USU should have 11 to 16 full-time therapists.

The school has just seven.

“We are really over worked and understaffed,” Helms said.

By bringing the problem to the attention of fellow student government leaders, and later to state lawmakers, Utah State student president Ashley Waddoups said she hopes future student leaders “can come forward and start asking for actual dollars.”

If successful in bringing together a coalition of colleges, the Utah State University Student Association's government relations council will seek a member of the Utah Senate or House of Representative to sponsor the resolution.

Currently, Clewett said, some Utah State students must wait more than a month for help.

“That’s a serious issue,” Clewett said. "Four to six weeks is four to six weeks far too long.”