Long lines and limited counselors are why students like Cassidy Roberts turned to the UF Counseling and Wellness Center’s new online program, SilverCloud.
The CWC created SilverCloud, a self-guided online resource, to provide students an online alternative to mental health counseling during COVID-19, said Geoff Lee, a clinical assistant professor at the CWC. The online program first became available to students in November before officially launching just after the first of the year and includes modules on anxiety, depression and stress, he said.
Roberts has been referred to the CWC three times by UF Health physicians, nurse practitioners and her counselor from her hometown. But she’s never gotten an appointment.
“Every single time, they’ve never been able to call me back, or the line has been too long, and I wasn’t an emergency client, so they didn’t get me in,” the 19-year-old UF chemical engineering sophomore said.
The launch of SilverCloud comes after COVID-19 forced the CWC, which was already bursting at the seams, to close in March 2020 and resort to tele-mental health services. The CWC had to set up technology and train staff, and it dipped into its savings to pay for these unexpected expenses. This, along with a stagnant funding, led to a limited budget.
SilverCloud is not necessarily a replacement for counseling or therapy, but it’s a good first step for some students, Lee said.
“There are enough students that might be dealing with something, but don’t necessarily have the time or energy to devote to counseling, or may not be ready to take that step,” Lee said. “So, it’s a really nice introduction to things that we can do to take care of ourselves.”
The CWC began working on SilverCloud in early 2020. Work on the online platform was interrupted when COVID-19 hit in March and the CWC had to shift its focus to developing tele-mental health services. Work on SilverCloud picked up in Fall, and it was officially released during the first few days of 2021, Lee said.
SilverCloud cost about $25,000 to provide access to every student on campus, Lee said.
Currently, 62 students are using SilverCloud, Lee said. A feedback survey from 23 users showed positive results, as they have found the modules interesting, relevant and helpful.
Roberts said she would rather see the counseling center’s money spent on more counselors. But if it can’t hire more of them, SilverCloud is the next best thing.
“I know it would be a great resource for people who are just starting or need a quick stress relief situation,” she said. “It’s a good beginning step.”
Renae Burke, a 22-year-old UF biomedical engineering and music fifth year, said they haven’t used SilverCloud. But from what they know, it’s a good first step toward making more immediate services available to students.
Burke scheduled appointments with the CWC in Summer 2017, Fall 2018 and Fall 2019. The first time, they were able to meet with a counselor because of higher availability in Summer. But the other times, they were told no counselors were available and to look elsewhere, Burke said.
“They don’t even tell you before you come in that there isn’t a counselor availability,” Burke said. “And it may be another three or four weeks before you’re able to meet with someone who’s not even at UF.”
While they said SilverCloud appears to be a good alternative, it may not work for everyone – especially people who have severe depression or anxiety.
“It may be more difficult to put in the work on their own as opposed to being held accountable for working on their mental health with a one-on-one counselor,” Burke said.
Contact J.P. Oprison at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @joprison.
JP is a fourth-year journalism major with a minor in history. He is currently the health reporter for The Alligator, focusing on how the pandemic is affecting Alachua County and the thousands of students in Gainesville. In his free time, JP likes to exercise at the gym and relax on the beach.