Students deserve more from university-provided mental health resources

Students deserve more from university-provided mental health resources

Photo Credits: AGGIE FILE

 COVID-19 and remote learning have increased the demand for mental health services, due to rise in student loneliness, stress and anxiety

Any student can schedule individual counselling sessions with the Student Health and Wellness Center by calling 1(530)752-0871. The phone number for the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1(800)273-8255 or text RELATE to 74174 to confidentially chat with a Crisis Counselor. Speak with a trained counselor, available 24/7, through The Trevor Project at 1(866)488-7386. Yolo County’s 24-hour crisis line is 1(530)756-5000.

There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the already unstable mental health of college students. Not just UC Davis students, but across the world, students struggle with mental health—and the COVID-19 pandemic has only heightened these issues. With classes at UC Davis being held almost entirely online, it is all too easy for students to feel anxious, stressed and isolated right now. 

A Texas A&M University study researching the effects of COVID-19 on college students’ mental health found increased levels of stress, anxiety and depressive thoughts among students. Of the 195 students under study, 71% indicated increased stress and anxiety due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Of those surveyed, 91% reported fear and worry about their own health and of their loved ones, 86% reported disruptions to sleeping patterns and 82% reported increased concerns on academic performance.

A report released last August by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) studying COVID-19’s effect on mental health found that among 18-to 24-year-olds, about one-quarter of those surveyed had “seriously considered suicide” in the last 30 days. 

These studies clearly illustrate an urgent need for universities to develop new strategies addressing student mental health. While the Editorial Board acknowledges that UC Davis has recognized the increasing demand for mental health resources, and has adapted their existing resources to the COVID-19 pandemic, more action needs to be taken. UC Davis must learn to mitigate long appointment wait times and understaffing of their resources—problems felt by universities across the U.S

In accordance with CDC guidelines, Student Health and Counseling Services (SHCS) has moved all in-person services, including individual counseling, to secure video conferencing and telephone consultation. Yet, only students currently located in California at the time of the appointment may access these specific resources due to legal constraints. 

When writing this editorial on Nov. 10, a member of the Editorial Board attempted to schedule a session for individual brief counseling—which is typically a set of 3-5 therapy sessions—yet, the first available appointment was Dec. 1. 

A member of the Editorial Board also tried to set up a one time visit—which is scheduled on the same day or for the next day. No appointments were available. 

SHCS is widely known to be understaffed, resulting in long wait times for appointments. Despite the increasing need for meetings with counselors, leadership within SHCS recently furloughed 37 employees within the department resulting in “decreased availability for students.” Counseling through SHCS, however, is the only option for many students who may not have the financial means to use a private counselor. Students should not have to wait around three weeks before they can meet with a counselor, even if they are not in a crisis situation. 

Crisis consultation services are still available for students who call (530) 752-0871. Drop-in consultation services have been suspended due to the pandemic, however, as of June 30, access to LiveHealth Online is only free for those on the UC Student Health Insurance Plan. While one-time appointments, in theory, allow students to meet with a counselor at a moment of crisis, in reality these resources are not always available when students need them. Students may also find one meeting is not sufficient at providing the help they need.

Due to the online nature of these appointments, unreliable internet connection and issues of privacy also create difficulties for students. The possibility of family members or housemates listening into private counseling meetings may scare some students away from accessing these resources, even if they really need help. 

UC Davis has provided resources to help students cope with the unique challenges posed by COVID-19. For the 2020-2021 school year the Campus Community Book Project is focusing on mental health by featuring the graphic memoir “Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me” by Ellen Forney. Podcasts and “You Got This” workshops are also available for students. 

Students who are already overwhelmed may not be looking to read more books, watch more lectures or attend more classes on top of their schoolwork. These resources are not sufficient replacements for conversations with mental health professionals—which are what students really need during times of crisis. 

While it is clear that students deserve more from university-provided mental health resources, it is not only the job of administrators to solve these challenges. Students, faculty and staff can help by openly discussing mental health. Students should increase their conversations with peers about mental health; oftentimes hearing that others are also struggling with anxiety, depression or stress makes others feel less alone. Professors should check in with students, be flexible with assignments and do whatever they can to decrease stress in class.  

Regarding UC Davis administrators—more work needs to be done to ensure every student is aware of their “mental health tool kit,” or the resources the university provides to students. These resources should be easier for all students to access and understand. 

All students should have equal access to SHCS and should be able to make an appointment within a day or two of their request. Drop-in counseling appointments should be reinstated through Zoom to ensure all students can speak with a counselor in a moment of crisis. More counselors should be hired to meet the increasing demands for appointments. 

Changes must be made so all students can access the mental health resources that they deserve. 

Written by: The Editorial Board