Headquarters Counseling Center in Lawrence was founded by Kansas University students in 1969, and since then many KU students and alumni have made or answered calls on its 24-hour crisis hotline.
But this summer, for the first time in 40 years, its financial ties to KU were cut.
At the end of June, Headquarters stopped receiving $36,000 in annual funding from KU’s Student Senate, which had contributed funds to the center since 1972. That came not long after the center’s annual United Way funding decreased by about $26,000.
Its annual budget for services in Douglas County is about $200,000, director Marcia Epstein said.
“How long can we operate with this budget? Honestly, I can’t tell you that for sure,” Epstein said.
Headquarters’ Student Senate funding came into doubt in spring of 2011, when the Senate opted to end funding of four Lawrence agencies using a student fee primarily used to provide money for student groups, as of summer 2012. The other agencies affected were GaDuGi SafeCenter, Douglas County AIDS Project and Willow Domestic Violence Center.
The change drew opposition from some students and others, but Senate members said then they would look into other ways to fund the groups. And a group the following fall did just that.
As a result, leaders at the other three agencies said their KU funding has continued unchanged this fall. But funding for Headquarters? No more.
Carlye Yanker, the Student Senate treasurer for this school year, said members were unsure how many KU students were being helped by Headquarters’ crisis line, and they noticed that KU already had a Counseling and Psychological Services office on campus.
So the Senate instead is now funding a CAPS after-hours phone line provided through Kansas Health Solutions in Topeka, as well as a new clinical social worker for the office.
Senators thought that would ensure students’ fees would go toward services that would help them directly, Yanker said.
“Every student pays these, and we’re trying to be the voice for them,” Yanker said.
She also noted that the Kansas Health Solutions line is staffed by mental health professionals, as opposed to the largely volunteer force used by Headquarters.
“We thought that was better for the students, and effective,” Yanker said.
The new CAPS after-hour service, which became available to KU students at the same time Headquarters’ funding was cut off, provides assessment and referral services, can help students in need of psychiatric hospitalization, assistance in cases of “acute psychological distress” and a few other services, said CAPS clinical director Pam Botts in an email.
But Headquarters’ workers, even though many are volunteers, are trained more specifically on suicide prevention, Epstein said. The center is credentialed by the American Association of Suicidology for suicide prevention, unlike the Kansas Health Solutions line or any other service in Kansas.
Botts, too, said that was not the specialty of the new CAPS line.
“This is not a suicide prevention hotline,” Botts said.
She noted that students still have the option of calling the Headquarters line if they’re in need.
Epstein, though, said Headquarters had been forced to cut back in several ways since it became apparent that its KU funding would soon be cut off. It has eliminated a full-time staff position and two part-time jobs, and it ended its longtime practice of advertising twice per week in the University Daily Kansan to spread the word to students about its service.
“We’ve pretty much eliminated advertising expenses,” Epstein said.
That’s unfortunate, she said, because the center’s success depends partly on its ability to get the word out about its services.
The staff has three employees now, all full-time, in addition to 35 volunteers, many of whom are KU students. It also pays considerable phone costs, Epstein said. The center also provides other local services in addition to its 24-hour counseling line, ranging from bereavement support groups to children’s safety programs.
Headquarters did receive a three-year $480,000 federal grant earlier this year, but that can be used only for new statewide suicide-prevention programs, not for its Douglas County services.
“We certainly are working hard to come up with enough money, little places here and there,” Epstein said.
According to Kansas Department of Health and Environment data, seven deaths by suicide occurred among 15- to 24-year-olds in Douglas County during 2010 and 2011 — as many that occurred during the four-year span from 2006-2009.
Epstein pointed to a National Alliance on Mental Illness survey of college students with mental health conditions released last week that showed those students considered a 24-hour crisis hotline to be the single most critical mental health crisis service available on campus.
She recalled that student senators had asked how many of the people served at Headquarters were KU students, and she had been able to provide concrete statistics. Compiling that information can be difficult, she said, but the center’s staff is working to improve its record-keeping with a new electronic system.
Perhaps with help from improved numbers, Epstein said she hoped to push for reinstated Student Senate funding in the future. It would re-establish a direct link to KU that had existed for Headquarters since KU students founded it 43 years ago.
“That’s pretty historic,” Epstein said. “That’s pretty impressive. It should be something for KU to be really proud of.”