Dailey Jackson thought virtual therapy appointments were covered by insurance.
When unexpected bills for the visits started to come in, Jackson turned to the Sunshine Fund, administered through Student Care and Outreach in the Division of Student Affairs, for help.
“After going through a very stressful summer, being an Orientation leader, and learning about the benefits of having preemptive coping skills, I decided that it was probably a good time to get a therapist. I found a provider that matched the style I wanted, and I began regularly seeing her,” Jackson said.
Jackson opted for telehealth appointments to better fit a busy schedule but soon received unexpected bills for the sessions. Jackson’s insurance company had said it would cover therapy appointments—just not that the appointments had to be in person.
“I reached back out to SCO, and my case manager was very understanding and resourceful, helping to walk me through the process of using the Sunshine Fund. The fund covered a large chunk of my balance and allowed me to pay for the rest and continue receiving therapy,” Jackson said.
The Sunshine Fund was started two and a half years ago by Christie and Scott Krase, UGA parents who wanted to support students in a direct and meaningful way that increases their day-to-day health and well-being. Its name comes from their daughter’s middle name—Sunshine. So far, donors have contributed nearly $3 million to the fund.
“You know, we send our children off to college and think we are setting them up for success by reminding them to eat well, get some sleep, be careful, get some exercise, and, a family favorite—‘make good choices.’ Through no direct fault of our own, many of us do not give our kids strategies or the resources of what to do when they are struggling with big things because mental health has long been overlooked as a crucial component of well-being,” they said.
The Krases pointed out that the fund has become even more important after the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Supporting the mental health of UGA students is even more timely and foundational for setting them up for success—not just in their academic careers, but as they also go forward into the world. Having accessible mental health support systems in place on campus not only allows for timely interventions, but also reduces barriers and stigmas that may be attached to asking for help by creating an environment that supports the holistic well-being of students at UGA,” they said. “We know that with this support, students have the best chance for happy and successful lives on campus as well as afterwards.”
According to Carrie Smith, director of Student Care and Outreach, the Sunshine Fund has three specific areas of focus to support students. First, funds help students like Jackson pay for mental health care. Second, funds can be used for suicide prevention efforts. Third, funds can go toward mitigating circumstances that negatively impact a student’s well-being. That might include covering a students living expenses after a death in the family so that they can have time away from work to seek help for processing their grief.
For Jackson, simply feeling reassured about paying for therapy has made a difference.
“The Sunshine Fund supported me financially when I was desperately struggling to get the help I needed. Because of the therapy I received, I have been able to prepare healthy coping strategies that have assisted me in my academic, personal and professional lives and have improved my student experience overall,” Jackson said. “On top of that, because of my use of the fund, I’m able to help educate others about financial resources and the benefits of reaching out and asking for help, even when you’re needing help with getting help. Without it, I definitely wouldn’t be in the place I am now, and I think the improvements it has helped me to make in my life have improved other people’s lives in turn.”
In addition to the Sunshine Fund, Student Care and Outreach works in partnership with the Office of Student Financial Aid to coordinate other financial support resources to remove barriers for students accessing care. But facilitating direct funding support to students is far from the only way Student Affairs supports student mental health and well-being.
“Working to promote and enhance students’ well-being is everyone’s responsibility in our UGA community,” said Beau Seagraves, associate vice president for student well-being and interim executive director of the University Health Center. “We take a holistic approach to supporting students, recognizing that well-being encompasses a number of dimensions, including the physical, social, community, purpose and financial. Students can experience emotional distress any time challenges arise in one or more of these areas. In Student Affairs, we work to provide services and resources that students can access to prevent more significant distress in these areas so they can focus on achieving their goals.”
Student Affairs seeks to build a hub of care and support. Student Care and Outreach meets with students one-on-one to identify their needs and facilitate connections to resources on and off campus, including clinical mental health services offered through Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS), the ASPIRE Clinic and the Psychology Clinic. Additional digital resources are provided through the University System of Georgia, including the Headspace meditation app, the TogetherAll platform, the SilverCloud platform and the Nod platform. To learn more, visit well-being.uga.edu.
“There is so much, and the university is doing a lot,” Smith said. “We need to show students why it matters and how they can engage for it to be helpful. We want it to feel less overwhelming for students. The goal is proactive involvement. We want students to access these resources to take care of themselves. We are a culture and community that cares—we just have to connect the dots so that students understand how to see and feel that.”
Jackson agreed that these resources make an impact.
“I know that my experience isn’t necessarily an individual one,” Jackson said. “A lot of students are hesitant about getting a therapist because of financial barriers, and having resources like the Sunshine Fund makes an otherwise difficult and scary process a lot less overwhelming.”