Mental health struggles or co-payments: The choice students shouldn’t have to make

By Mesha Mittanasala | Photographer

Adapting to college life is difficult. Having to navigate classes across a humongous campus, establish a schedule and figure out which dining hall has the best food are just a few of the struggles students face during their stressful days. Luckily, they have access to Baylor Student Health and Wellness resources, including the Counseling Center, for support through any mental health problems they may encounter. However, for some, that privilege is potentially inaccessible.

All services offered by the Counseling Center are free, including telehealth services, face-to-face counseling and the mental health clinical support line. However, some programs that fall under the health services category — such as general medical care, medical nutrition therapy and psychiatric services — require payment, which is usually covered by insurance.

According to the Health Services website, “Baylor University Health Services is not a Medicaid/Medicare provider.”

With the class of 2027 being the most diverse class Baylor has ever had, the impact that this rule has is tremendous. It’s likely some students are on a Medicaid insurance plan, and if they have needs that go beyond free services, they have to pay out of pocket for that treatment or medication. For example, if a student were to go to a free mental health consultation and be recommended to see a psychiatrist, they would need to pay for the psychiatrist visit as well as any medications prescribed. As a result, some students from low-income backgrounds may not be able to access such services simply because they can’t pay for them.

For many first-generation students and students of color, their visit to the Counseling Center is one of the first times they have access to mental health counseling without their parents’ notice. In many immigrant families and ethnic cultures, mental health issues are looked down upon as bringing an unspoken shame to the family since they are seen as “not normal.” Oftentimes, symptoms of mental illness go undiagnosed and untreated. The Counseling Center acts as a safe haven for these students to finally receive the care they desperately need. However, if their needs go beyond the threshold of free services, the rule to not accept Medicaid adds another hurdle for them to jump over.

For those without health insurance, the Health Center does offer “a 40% discount on all fees, excluding vaccines and lab work that will go to CPL, provided the visit is paid for that day before the student leaves the Health Center.”

Dr. Sharon Stern, the medical director at the Health Center, said, “We are always concerned about our students and strive to provide high-quality care to everyone at the lowest possible price.” She also said the Health Center can “guide students to other resources if they still have difficulty paying.”

Without adequate care, these students from low-income backgrounds and unsupportive families will continue to remain in the same cycle of mental health problems affecting their physical, emotional, social and academic lifestyles. Baylor needs to provide more methods and advertise its current programs so that no student has to choose between foregoing mental health services or seeing a new charge in their student account.