What’s the problem?

According to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, roughly 1 in 5 Americans ages 18-25 experience a mental illness1. Applied to the 7,504 WUSTL undergraduate students, this would mean approximately 1,500 students struggle with mental health and could benefit from MHS.

Student Health Services (SHS) currently has 7 full-time counselors, 3 part-time counselors, and 2 psychiatrists working in the Mental Health Services (MHS) department. With the high number of students seeking mental health treatment, however, the department is overwhelmed struggling to meet students’ needs. At times, a student must wait four weeks before a counselor has an open appointment.

What’s being done?

To combat this issue, SHS started a program called Let’s Talk, which “provides students with easy access to free, brief, confidential consultations with counselors from [MHS]”. Tuesday through Friday, counselors hold Let’s Talk sessions for 90 minute segments at various spots on the Danforth campus. During these sessions, a student can attend a 10-20 minute walk-in counseling session designed to target students who need the aid of a counselor but might not need or might not be able to book a full hour-long counseling appointment. The figure below depicts the flow of students who use Let’s Talk or SHS counseling appointments.

What’s our role?

While this program addresses the issue of the long wait time for an appointment with MHS, it comes with its own issues. According to MHS, no students show up to many of the sessions, wasting two hours (90 minutes at Let’s Talk and 30 minutes of commute) of a counselor’s time that could have been used to see patients in their office. For this reason, we have decided to focus our capstone design project on modeling attendance to Let’s Talk to determine which locations on campus are most accessible for students to use. Based on these recommendations, we hope to improve the efficiency of the mental health care at WUSTL so it is best able to meet student needs.

How we are trying to help

In order to complete this project, we have worked with SHS to gather necessary data, including student access to mental health care and detailed information about their Let’s Talk program and attendance, and ensure any ideas regarding possible solutions are feasible for them. We have also collected our own data in the form of tracking foot traffic in various locations where Let’s Talk is held, distributed a survey via social media to the student body, and gathered statistics about the student body posted by the school. We combined and analyzed these sets of data in order to create a mathematical queuing model. This model was then built in SimScript III to simulate current attendance to the program and predict attendance at other possible locations. By better understanding the patterns of attendance to the various location, we were able to make an informed recommendation to SHS in order to improve the Let’s Talk program and thus mental health services on campus.