Deseret News
FILE: People walk across the quad at Utah State University in Logan on Wednesday, April 20, 2016.

LOGAN — Decrying long waits for on-campus mental health care, Utah State University's Student Association voted Tuesday to declare a mental health crisis on the Logan campus.

Matthew Clewett, student advocate vice president, said he hopes passage of the measure will encourage student governments at other public universities and colleges in Utah to pass similar legislation and work together to convince state lawmakers to boost funding for college suicide prevention and mental health programs.

USU students are waiting four to six weeks to see counselors at the campus-run Counseling and Psychological Services, said Clewett, lead sponsor of the bill.

"Four to six weeks is four to six weeks far too long for a student suffering from depression," he said.

As the size of the student body grows and society in general has an increasing need for mental health services, the Utah System of Higher Education needs more resources to meet needs, he said.

"There's a lack of counselors. There's a lack of funding for these services. It’s reached a crisis level, especially here at Utah State University," Clewett said.

USU administrators did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Luann Helms, assistant director of the USU Counseling and Psychological Services, thanked members of the USU Student Association for bringing the issue to the forefront.

"I wanted to share I believe we are severely understaffed," said Helms, a licensed psychologist.

National standards recommend one full-time therapist for every 1,000 to 1,500 students, she said. There are some 16,000 students on USU's main campus, which means 11 to 16 therapists are needed to meet students' needs.

"We have 7.25," Helms said.

"We really care and we're really working hard, but we're really understaffed." Moreover, the percentage of the students seeking help from USU's counseling center who say they are seriously considering suicide is higher than the national average, 46 percent compared to 33 percent, she said.

Dr. James Davis, USU's executive director of Health, Wellness and Recreation, said anxiety and depression are the top two diagnoses of USU students who seek care from the student health center. The two diagnoses "represent 1 in 5 students who use the health center," Davis said.

Suicide attempts and suicide deaths among college-age Utahns and Americans throughout the country are reaching alarming levels, Clewett said.

Utah Department of Health officials said it is not possible to extract from state data how many of the people who died by suicide in northern Utah were USU students.

In 2014, there were 31 suicide deaths overall in the Bear River Health District, which includes Box Elder, Cache and Rich counties. Among them, 16 suicide deaths occurred in Cache County and 11 in Logan specifically, but state health officials cautioned the deceased were not necessarily USU students.

Among the typical ages of college students, 18-24, there were nine suicides in Cache County between 2012 and 2014. Of the nine suicide deaths, eight occurred in Logan, but again, it is not known if the deceased were USU students.

Clewett said many youths struggle with mental illnesses and their conditions can worsen as they adjust to college and for the first time in their lives, live away from their families and other longtime supports.

He has personal experience with the issue, which has opened his eyes to the challenges of other people.

When Clewett was 13, his father died of an illness. Clewett did not immediately seek help, but during high school he experienced depression and anxiety.

"I've seen the negative effects that this illness can have on individuals," he said.

While his personal experiences have been instructive, Clewett said the bill he sponsored is not about him.

"The story should be about the student body and how they're being affected. This is an issue that's affecting students at Utah State University, the students throughout the state of Utah and students throughout the nation as well," he said.