Editorial: CMHS deserves more funding to meet student needs

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UConn's Counseling and Mental Health Services is located in the Arjona Building across from Mirror Lake.  Photo by Judah Shingleton/The Daily Campus

UConn’s Counseling and Mental Health Services is located in the Arjona Building across from Mirror Lake. Photo by Judah Shingleton/The Daily Campus

UConn’s Counseling and Mental Health Services (CMHS) provide care to students facing obstacles – whether internally or externally based – that arise from the college experience. According to their mission statement, they aim “to provide the highest quality clinical services to promote the emotional, relational, and academic potential of all students.”  

But how adequately does UConn’s CMHS abide by said mission statement?  

While the staff consistently puts forth their best effort, CMHS needs significant work to fulfill its duty to the UConn community. Among other problems, UConn must increase diversity among staff and address the excessively long wait times.  

Diversity among staff is critical; after all, we need counselors who can relate to particular students’ experiences and needs. As CMHS proclaims within its diversity statement, “we promote social justice and inclusivity throughout UConn and the broader global community through our clinical, outreach and training services.” To its credit, UConn’s CMHS has made a concerted effort to bolster diversity among its staff, hiring a multicultural specialist and several clinical staff members who are multilingual and have varied backgrounds, interests and therapeutic approaches. Such a pursuit should be strengthened. 

Mental health crises wait for nobody. These crises must be alleviated before they become too severe, so staff and other resources must remain accessible. Currently, UConn’s CMHS fails to satisfy this basic component of effective student care. Students have decried the department’s staffing shortages and long wait times, and justifiably so — adequate mental health services are difficult enough to provide and obtain without such issues. Perhaps these shortcomings would become less egregious with the establishment of a campus-wide peer support group. But UConn Undergraduate Student Government (USG) Student Services Committee chairman Derek Pan’s unsuccessful proposal of an anonymous online chat system staffed by trained students and/or counseling staff demonstrates that it’ll be difficult to implement such a resource. 

Although our frustration is warranted, we shouldn’t hold UConn’s CMHS completely liable for its faults.  

“I can unequivocally say that they have the same passion of serving the students that I have,” Pan said of UConn’s mental health administrators. “They are highly professional, are good at what they do and have a broader vision of what needs to improve mental health wise on campus – a vision similar in scope to what we students would like to see improved. That being said, they are limited by one major obstacle — and this is an obstacle that many, if not all, university departments face — funding.”  

Indeed, many of the issues that UConn’s CMHS and other universities’ mental health systems face can be attributed to paltry finances that must be spread thinly. 

To improve funding — and consequently curtail accessibility pitfalls — Pan suggests that we convince UConn’s Board of Trustees to either increase the university’s current Student Health & Wellness fee or provide a supplementary Mental Health fee. While the enactment of either proposal would be a step in the right direction, the onus shouldn’t be placed entirely upon constituents to empty their wallets further. Ideally the university would better appropriate its funds toward services that students truly need and desire (e.g. CMHS). Given the importance and relevance of mental health services, especially in relation to other services that many students hardly use yet are required to compensate financially (e.g. UConn’s Recreation Center and transit), UConn would be wise to take this course of action. 

Pan cites the contributions of USG’s newly formed Mental Health and Wellness Subcommittee. Its most notable advocacy efforts have involved co-coordinating UConn’s first Mental Illness Awareness Week alongside other campus-wide mental health organizations, administrating complimentary mental health first aid certification training and lobbying for legislation at the state capitol. The subcommittee will soon provide a platform for students to express their concerns – more details will be announced shortly. 

Pan’s greatest priority, however, is the JED Campus Initiative. 

“[It] is an ambitious four-year partnership with the Jed Foundation, a third party mental health advocacy group, that involves a comprehensive campus-wide assessment of the mental health of the university, forms a mental health coalition involving buy-in from university leadership and establishes tangible goals for the university to improve student mental health,” Pan said.  

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Indeed, many of the issues that UConn’s CMHS and other universities’ mental health systems face can be attributed to paltry finances that must be spread thinly. 

USG proposed and financially supports said initiative, which will go into effect in the spring 2020 semester and should enable long-term, systematic improvements.  

There’s been a frustratingly overwhelming sense that UConn, intentionally or not, disregards its students’ needs and desires. We’ve seen this most recently through UConn’s mandatory $500 per-student annual fee for its new Recreation Center — which at least presents significant improvements from the previous facility and provides its own health and wellness benefits — and its tepid initial responses to the “Fridays for Future” climate strike and  racist incident at Charter Oak Apartments.  

While it’s good that upon taking notice of its constituency’s requests UConn attempts to address them in a timely and orderly fashion, it shouldn’t take outcry from a string of misguided actions to induce positive change via obligatory corrective measures. Rather, we should establish responses and initiatives that are well thought-out from their onset — with each one befitting the urgency of their surrounding context — and a constant, innate desire to fortify our current state of affairs. Students shouldn’t feel helpless or joke despairingly about their apparent inability to act upon significant issues, but instead should remain vocal and active in their pursuit of UConn’s betterment. If we heed these words, then UConn can finally fund and staff CMHS properly, with students reaping the benefits as intended. 

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