As the COVID-19 pandemic drags on and continues to necessitate social distancing, the need for a new approach to mental health is being discussed worldwide.

At the University of Alabama, seniors Victoria Ward and Bailey Lenai have joined forces to push for more affordable and more convenient mental health services on campus.

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The Capstone is one of only two schools in the Southeastern Conference that charges its full-time students for mental health services, according to the Crimson White. UA's Counseling Center currently provides students with a free mental health screening, but charges $15 for each following session. Students are also limited to 15 sessions per academic year.

Lenai and Ward are members of UA Students for a National Health Program, or SNaHP. Through the organization, Ward and Lenai started a petition demanding more accessible mental health services for Alabama students. As of Saturday, 500 people had signed.

Lenai told the Tuscaloosa Thread that the lack of funding for the counseling center does not justify charging students for mental health services. Ward also believes the recurring service fee could do more harm for students than good.

"$15 may not seem like a lot to the school, but for a lot of students it's hard to come up with the money," said Ward. 'That fee may cause students to put their mental health on the back burner and use that money for other needs.'

Lenai said he believes a good compromise would be to mirror Emory University's Student Health Insurance Plan. The private Atlanta-based University offers free psychiatry services to all enrolled students. Most student health and psychiatric services are covered by Emory tuition.

"I think it would be a good idea if all students paid $15 upfront then received free mental heath care all year," Lenai said.

Ward and Lenai said they hope to continue an open dialogue about the possibilities of improving mental health services on campus as well as making them more affordable for students with UA administrators including Dr. Ruperto Perez, vice president of the Division of Student Life, and Greg Vander Wal, executive director of UA counseling center.

For more information about counseling services provided at the University of Alabama click here.

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