The Counseling and Wellness Center

Lizzie Lunior’s first time at the UF Counseling and Wellness Center was positive. Her counselor was a good fit.

The second time, things were different. About two years later, a traumatic memory resurfaced, and Lunior started to become depressed.

As UF moves up in the rankings, there has been a rise in student mental health concerns, said Ernesto Escoto, the director of the Counseling and Wellness Center.

When Lunior went to the center counselors for help again, they told her they couldn’t help her, she said. Her problems were too big for the center, and she had to wait two weeks to be referred elsewhere.

She said she felt betrayed by the ones who helped her before.

“I’m spiraling downward into deep depression and losing all functionality that I had really taken for granted,” said Lunior, a 26-year-old counselor education doctoral student. “And then they’re telling me, ‘Oh, we can’t help you because you told us the truth.’”

As of April 17, the center has seen 5,394 students is from July 2018 to June 2019, Escoto said. The previous year, the center saw 5,340 students.

Escoto said the rise in student mental health can be attributed to more high-achieving students coming to UF.

Students with gifted abilities are at greater risk for severe mental illness, and the competition created from performing well in the classroom can be isolating.

U.S. News and World Report compiles a list of the best public institutions in the country based on factors. UF first cracked the list in 2017. As of September, UF is ranked eighth in the country.

As of April 17, about 1,200 students had gone to the center with some form of suicidal thoughts or plans. There have been five suicides this year, and three suicides from 2017 to 2018.

If students come to the center with an emergency, such as suicidal thoughts, Escoto said they will be seen that day. Less immediate issues will result in an average of 16 days until an appointment.

By the start of Fall 2019, Escoto said he hopes to have 46 counselors on staff. There are 36 counselors currently.

The Alligator reached out to six other top 10 public schools to discuss its counseling programs, but they could not be reached for comment.

Although Lunior understands the situation the center is in, she said they can do more.

“I really had to fight,” she said. “I really had to gain a lot of my own personal wisdom, and really deepen my sense of intuition, and realize that the systems that are supposedly there to help me really left me out to dry.”

Kelly Hayes is a journalism and political science junior at the University of Florida. Before becoming a staff writer at The Alligator, she wrote as a contributor, and also as the marketing intern for The Florida Museum of Natural History.