Skip to content
Reading time: 2 minutes
teacher speaking to students in a classroom
Charmaine Higa-McMillan and students at UH Hilo

To help curb Hawaiʻi’s ballooning demand for mental health services and substance abuse treatment, the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo will receive a total of $1.68 million over the next five years. The funding will create a new certified substance abuse counselor (CSAC) track to accommodate up to 30 students each year within UH Hilo’s MA in counseling psychology program.

“The COVID-19 pandemic led to a significant increase in mental health problems,” said Charmaine Higa-McMillan, director of UH Hilo’s counseling psychology program. “According to the National Institutes of Health, 50% of Americans in 2021 reported having anxiety or depressive symptoms and 10% stated that their mental health needs were not being met. The need for mental health services in the County of Hawaiʻi and across the state has increased significantly due to the opioid abuse epidemic.”

Weight of addiction

hand reaching out in white haze

UH Hilo received the funding award from the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division (ADAD) of the Hawaiʻi Department of Health and in partnership with the Hawaiʻi County Mayor’s Office.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 50% of people suffering from substance addiction have a co-occurring mental health condition.

“An important benefit of adding the CSAC concentration is that students will be trained to treat both substance use disorders and mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and suicidality,” explained Bryan Kim, a UH Hilo psychology professor in the program. “In Hawaiʻi, these mental health and substance use problems have posed challenges to our already strained mental health system.”

Premiere program

Established in 2005, the MA program in counseling psychology provides multicultural, student-centered training with a specialization in clinical mental health counseling. The program’s curriculum meets the requirements for licensure as a mental health counselor in Hawaiʻi and is the only one of its kind in the UH System. The program is nationally accredited and is offered to students throughout the state via distance education technology. The program has graduated more than 200 mental health counselors and has a 90% graduation rate.

“The mental health counseling program at UH Hilo is in an ideal position to help address the rising mental health and substance abuse problems in our state,” Higa-McMillan said. “We are excited about our partnership with ADAD and the Mayor’s Office that will enable us to bring real and tangible benefits to our communities.”

Alumni from the UH Hilo program work in various mental health settings across the state such as the state education and health departments, and non-profit agencies including Big Island Substance Abuse Council, Care Hawaii, Child and Family Service, Hale Kipa, and in group and private practice.

The MA in counseling psychology program is housed in the UH Hilo psychology department.

Back To Top