Arkansas Leaders Take Leaps For Mental Health Care

The University of Arkansas: Fayetteville campus recently saw a significant increase in its Pat Walker Health Center. The nearly 20,000 square feet added by the recent renovation aims to combat the 30-40% increase in the need for mental health services over the past few years at the college. In his opening remarks, chancellor for the university, Joe Steinmetz, said that, “we’ve always said that health and wellness is essential to any comprehensive student success program we develop. And this expansion reflects and, I think, it prioritizes that belief that we have.” With the expansion, the university now has 16 full-time mental health professionals on staff, in addition to two part-time psychiatrists.

In the future, the university’s Director of Counseling and Psychological Services, Josette Cline, plans on adding two more mental health professionals. She noted that anxiety was the number one concern students were reporting to mental health staff. The waiting room was also expanded nearly 200% to help accommodate the increased need for counseling services.  In addition to the increase in space and staff, Cline added more classrooms to the health center and included a room designed to help students with anxiety relax.

On a related note, the former police chief of Fayetteville, Frank Johnson, penned a heartbreaking op-ed to the Northwest Arkansas Gazette urging lawmakers to provide an increased range of mental health services to those struggling to the opioid epidemic. The opioid epidemic is unusually severe in Arkansas, which saw the second-highest rate of opioid prescription in 2016, only behind Alabama. Johnson concludes his op-ed by writing “The 92nd General Assembly of the Arkansas Legislature will convene Jan. 14, and lawmakers will face many issues. As an advocate for an organization committed to behavioral health, my hope is state leaders will consider steps that promote wellness of the whole person. One way to demonstrate this commitment is to partner with the 12 community mental health centers that constitute a safety net for behavioral health needs.”

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