Letter to the Editor: Addressing mental health services on campus

Dear Editor,
No one should have to wait for access to mental health resources, however, this is the reality for many students at the University of Connecticut. Following widespread prevalence of student concerns regarding limited accessibility to mental health resources on campus, we sought out student testimonies regarding their experiences accessing care at UConn.

“The talk therapist I was with was great, but seeing her once every two to three weeks didn't help my problems.” - Anonymous Husky

“Not having resources for mental health is detrimental, and yet, I don’t feel that I truly have access to those resources as a UCONN student.” - Anonymous Husky

“Wait times and limited appointments deter students from seeking the help they need.” - Anonymous Husky

“I always see things about promoting mental health around UConn, that’s why I was in shock that I couldn’t get the help I needed here at school.” - Anonymous Husky

“The staff have been great from my experience, but the fact of the matter is that the appointments are so spaced out I don’t have access when I need it.” - Anonymous Husky

Our intent is not to attack Counseling & Mental Health Services, but rather to respectfully acknowledge and work toward mitigating the discrepancies between CMHS’s mission statement - “promote the emotional, relational, and academic potential of all students” - and the reality of student experiences. What we know is that 1 in 4 college students suffer from some form of mental health issue and that CMHS is currently severely under equipped to handle such demand.

On Wednesday, March 13th at 12PM, we will stage a demonstration and peaceful protest to draw attention to the lack of transparency with CMHS services and put pressure on university administrators to increase the funding dedicated to CMHS services. Our goal is to push UConn to improve the accessibility of CMHS’ critically important resources for students in an increasingly demanding world where 87% of students report feeling regularly overwhelmed (CMHS, 2019).

The demands of the student body for Counseling & Mental Health Services are two-fold: transparency in all operations executed by the center, and improved access to mental health services needed by students. They are presented subsequently with their rationale:

  1. WAIT TIMES
    Put straightforwardly, the current wait times to be seen by CMHS are severely damaging to student wellbeing. According to a survey report on College Mental Health by NAMI in 2011, 60% of students in universities around the nation wait 2 days or less for an appointment. Anonymous testimonies held by UConn students point to wait times to be seen or triaged taking as long as 2-3 weeks (consistently), and once starting treatment, are only able to receive therapy once every two weeks.

    UConn and CMHS should look into hiring more staff to address the growing population on campus in need of professional mental health services.

  2. FINANCIAL
    The lack of CMHS’s ability to address all students mental health concerns is surely linked to the lack of available staff. CMHS continues to promote itself on the outside without creating a more robust internal system to handle the flow of students. Students without adequate insurance are unable to finance their needed care and treatment - however good intentions are, the system itself is structured in a way that limits students.

    UConn needs to allocate more funds toward CMHS so that CMHS can continue working toward its goal of providing all students in need with a high level of quality care. CMHS should assess and reallocate their sources of funding to provide services to students with limited financial backgrounds.

  3. STUDENT INVOLVEMENT
    As is the problem with most University Departments, there is no direct channel allowing student leaders the ability to vocalize their concerns to those at the top of the chain of command. Leaving students out of the decisions that are directly affecting them and their peers removes a level of transparency that should be expected by a department caring for the mental health of students.

    CMHS should create an explicit advisory board of hand selected student leaders in the area of mental health that will meet (regularly) to discuss/vocalize student concerns with CMHS and work toward creating initiatives to address those respective concerns.

  4. DIVERSITY IN STAFF
    It is widely known that when students don’t see their identities represented in the institutions that are supposed to be supporting them, they suffer at the hand of more mental health problems. There is little to no (visible) diversity in staff at CMHS with regards to race, gender, sexual orientation, etc,. UConn students coming from minority groups deserve to be treated by mental health experts and professionals that can understand directly the struggles of their community.

    CMHS should create explicit diversity and inclusion processes in their hiring processes for new staff. Students should be treated by professionals they feel comfortable being treated by. Additionally CMHS should explore the creation of additional therapy groups specifically for those part of specific minority demographic groups.

  5. TRAININGS ON CAMPUS
    It is highly unreasonable to expect that CMHS be able to handle every minor mental health concern on campus. The University has many stop gap measures in place to address issues before they become too serious like the training of Tier 3 leaders, RA’s, and student organization leaders. The trainings however, are severely inadequate and minimally prepare these individuals to address mental health situations.

    CMHS should invest in mandating that all student leaders on campus take a comprehensive mental health literacy and training class (4-8 hours) so that they can have individuals around the clock handling the less severe mental health concerns, therefore saving CMHS for the severe cases they proclaim to always be addressing.

To reiterate, our goal as student organizers is to draw attention to the gaps in the CMHS infrastructure. We aim to work with those on the inside [of CMHS] to add to the progress that has been made.

Good change comes slowly when you rely on the good people that are part of the institution - but revolutionary change comes when you amplify the voices of those without a seat at the table.

Sincerely,

Passionate student activists