Two years ago, Joseph Beaudoin walked into the University of Maine’s Counseling Center in crisis. Beaudoin reported being suicidal and that his mental state was seriously deteriorating, upon which the Counseling Center admitted him for an emergency appointment.
Beaudoin said that the counselor he spoke with was unprepared to perform a risk assessment and asked the assistant director to administer the Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS), which is the standard performed by crisis centers when assessing suicide risk. Because of the lack of preparedness he observed, Beaudoin said, he refrained from reporting the extent of his mental duress and was sent home from the center with no further appointments.
Beaudoin followed up with the Counseling Center to express his worry but said he did not receive the response he sought.
Since that appointment in 2017, Beaudoin, now a fourth-year social work student, has made a commitment to improve the services of the Counseling Center.
“I didn’t want another student to go through that,” Beaudoin said.
Over the last month, Beaudoin has compiled a report of other cases like his and wrote a comprehensive prescription to President Joan Ferrini-Mundy on what is necessary to improve mental health services UMaine.
Beaudoin, who said his method was not refuted by Ferrini-Mundy, measured the supposed suicide rate at UMaine through an “educated guess based off notices of death disseminated to UMaine students by email, wherein the cause of death is undisclosed and unreported publicly.”
There have been two such cases since the beginning of the spring 2019 semester.
The suicide rate at universities with an enrollment between 10,000 and 15,000 is 0.67 a year, according to a report from the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors. This average is synthesized through self-reported data from 621 university counseling centers around the country.
The typical method of assessing risk in students is called “triage.” This service typically involves clinically trained personnel using a model to determine student safety. The UMaine Counseling Center does not have such a service and instead employs two administrative assistants who schedule appointments.
This puts UMaine among the 41.4 percent of universities that do not employ a triage service.
According to the University of Maine Data Book, the annual salaries and benefits budget for the Counseling Center was $578,974.75 as of November 2018 while the national average for counseling centers serving universities of 10,000 to 15,000 students is $855,580. Considering that the median salary for clinical therapists is $46,241, according to PayScale, UMaine could pay five clinical therapists to run a triage and its counseling center salaries budget would still fall below the national average.
Several members of the Student Government have shown interest in improving mental health services on campus.
Taylor Cray, the vice president for student organizations, expressed that she had a similar experience to Beaudoin and is hoping to see a student-run initiative in the next year.
“What brought it to my attention was the number of hurdles you have to jump to get into the Counseling Center,” Cray said. “We have a senator who wants to take the initiative on it but is currently working on another project.”
Cray was referring to Sen. Harrison Ransley, a sophomore political science and economics student.
“This is still in the initial stages, but I really want to organize a group [of senators] who can take the project and run with it,” Ransley said.
Ransley unsuccessfully ran for president of Student Government this spring on a platform of student rights advocacy. He says that as of now the Student Conduct Code he’s drafting is all-encompassing, and he hopes to have more time to devote to addressing student mental health in the fall.
Beaudoin met with President Ferrini-Mundy during her open-office hours on April 3 to go over his report and ask for help addressing his concerns. He was unimpressed, saying that the meeting took less than 10 minutes.
“I’m going to speak bluntly,” Beaudoin said. “Bottom line, we’re seeing below-mediocre performance in a couple of metrics related to our mental health services, including our suicide rate. This year, it was triple the national average.”
He noted that the president responded by looking over his data and referring him to Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students Robert Dana.
“She gave verbal support but gave no commitments. What she did, it was placation,” Beaudoin said.
While installing a triage service would take some resources, Beaudoin explained it is necessary if the administration hopes to improve mental health among students.
“I wonder how many student deaths it will take before it becomes a liability and the administration allocates the right resources,” he said.
Beaudoin’s full report can be found here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1KCQKCPtbTjS4KEqz0zJtCMuMDxjoCQN1lPqiligD6ws/edit.
The phone number for the national suicide prevention hotline is (800) 273-8255. You can reach the UMaine Counseling Center at (207) 581-1392 and the deputy coordinator of Title XI Student Services at (207) 581-1406.