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The deafening silence from Student Counseling Services

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Graphic by Abigail Troth

In his time of great need, junior biology licensure student Spencer Lenahan reached out to Student Counseling Services. He was struggling with his mental health, and had heard that SCS was a great resource for students in crisis. Doing what he believed was best, Lenahan reached out to SCS for help. From there, only disappointment came.
First, Lenahan reached out to counseling services over the summer to receive proper mental health services. To his surprise, there was a system that required him to schedule a consultation meeting. It took up to three weeks to schedule the consultation itself, which Lenahan described as “absurd.” Despite it all, Lenahan scheduled the meeting and waited three weeks for his appointment.
After the appointment, it was decided that Lenahan qualified for mental health services. To Lenahan, this was absolutely unacceptable. Rightfully so. Why should students have to go through countless obstacles to receive mental health services in their time of need? Why should they be forced to wait? It’s waiting that causes tragedies in the first place.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was when Lenahan attempted to schedule his first meeting with SCS, which required yet another three week waiting period. He was hoping that this was finally his chance to receive proper help so he could work towards bettering himself and his mental health. To his great anger and disappointment, SCS never responded to his request. He never once received an email, a phone call or any other form of response from the counseling services. SCS was entirely radio silent.
With no thanks to SCS, Lenahan made it through his struggles with the help of his friends and Southern Pine Outreach Therapy. He was luckier than others. Some people, especially students at USM, are only able to rely on the resources supposedly available to them on campus. They’re broadcasted to students as “promoting sound mental health and the coping skills necessary for successful pursuit of their educational and life goals.” Their mission statement also says that they provide “quality services.” Yet if they aren’t responding to students to provide them help, then how good is the quality of their services?
“I think it’s underfunded, poorly trained, and just has a complete lack of resources,” said Lenahan.
Lenahan is not the only student who has reported issues with SCS. One anonymous student reported that their counselor gave them the wrong time of their appointment, and when the student attempted to reschedule, the wait time was absolutely ridiculous.
“…the next appointments were weeks away and at times when I have class,” said the student. “They just said “Sorry, that’s all we can do,” when I told them I needed help sooner rather than later.”
Students like Lenahan were there for not only this recent incident at the parking garage, but also remember the similar one that occurred two years ago. And also similar to then, the university only responded with a few emails. The incident would not be mentioned again.
Students were hoping that the university would take this preventable tragedy seriously, and once again, there was silence.
Not only is SCS silent towards their clients, but they are also silent towards the Southern Miss Student Media Center. For context, one of our reporters tried to politely interview the counselors at SCS for an article discussing Suicide Prevention Month. The interview did not happen, evidently, and our reporter was later reported to the Dean of Students. SCS reported that he made a scene and demanded an interview—which never happened.
After their lie about our reporter, they remained silent. When the tragedy happened at the parking garage, I naively requested an interview with SCS on the topic of the incident. I was confidently hoping that SCS would discuss coping with grief and offer support to students during this devastating time. I gave them the benefit of the doubt.
“Thank you for your interest in Student Counseling Services. We do hope you get the content you need for your story. However, SCS no longer offers interviews to student media. Our focus is on student care and these activities take resources away from students in need,” said Heidi Nelson, Director of Student Counseling Services, via email.
Do not forget that. SCS declined to comment on suicide prevention and also declined any further interviews with student media. Would a counseling service not want the chance to talk about suicide prevention?
Why is SCS continuously disappointing students with their silence, consistent unprofessionalism and mistakes? Their silence is deafening. Will other tragedies happen because of wait times, the corrupted system of being approved for mental health services or the refusal to discuss suicide prevention or grief?
Shame on SCS. Shame on them for not putting the students first. What other tragedies will happen for changes to truly be made at USM? It starts with counseling services. It starts with you, SCS. Students deserve better services than what they have received so far.
“It is more than past time for this university to invest in us, invest in mental health, and actually take measurable steps towards stopping these tragedies that could have been prevented if it were not for incompetent and lackluster administrative decisions.” Lenahan said.

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