Emory Must Spend More on Mental Health to Meet Student Demand

If you tried to seek help at Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) this semester, you probably encountered over a month-long wait for an appointment.

The fact that students have to wait this long for a service they pay Emory to provide is ridiculous. A Week of Protest chalking that read “you chose to pay for a marble building but not for mental health resources” was a valid criticism of the Emory administration’s priorities, and the University must take the steps necessary to ensure students can receive counseling services.

Student demand for on-campus mental health services has increased by over 44 percent since 2014, according to CAPS Director Wanda Collins. Collins anticipates that this increase will rise to over 50 percent after this year, consistent with a nationwide trend of surging student demand for college counseling centers. The waitlist for CAPS hit close to 100 individuals this past January, leaving many students in need of mental health resources without adequate care. Although Collins told the Wheel that the University gave an extra $50,000 to CAPS at the beginning of the 2018-19 academic year to hire contract therapists, the waitlist only kept growing. Collins said that just 25 students remain on the waitlist now, but this decrease only happened after CAPS canceled all of its staff meetings for the rest of the year in order to handle high student demand.

While CAPS is a counseling service that cannot be expected to perfectly resolve all students’ mental health issues, better funding would help CAPS serve the vulnerable parts of the student population. Since not all students can easily access outside care due to health insurance and transportation complications, CAPS should be well-funded enough to provide some relief. Collins said that the organization has filed a budgetary request with the University to increase its staffing for next year, and it’s a request the University must approve.

Students are right to be upset that money has been going toward construction instead. The University’s commitment to spending money on constructing new buildings may be the standard to attract new applicants, but it sends a terrible message to students when around 100 people were on the CAPS waitlist while the University spent $20 million renovating Convocation Hall.

In its 2018 annual report, the Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Collegiate Mental Health stated that universities should prioritize “growing demand [for mental health services] in an informed, intentional and transparent manner.” If Emory looks to other universities for construction trends, it should also consider what other schools are doing about students’ mental health. For example, Ohio State University has added 17 positions to its counseling staff in the past three years. Aside from simply expanding staff, Emory should also aim to implement innovative initiatives. For example, the University of California, Los Angeles offers a six- to eight-week mental health program that teaches students how to combat anxiety and depression with a “resilience peer.”

Emory must invest more of its unrestricted funds in CAPS, especially since the University names CAPS as a primary resource in emails that follow crises affecting students. For example, in the immediate aftermath of Emory Students for Justice in Palestine’s posting of eviction notices, Interim Vice President for Campus Life Paul Marthers suggested that affected students reach out to CAPS for help. Outside of administration, Residence Life employees commonly refer students to CAPS for mental health counseling all the more reason for the University to make CAPS a better resource for the student population.

Emory has lagged behind in providing adequate resources to its counseling center amid rapidly accelerating demand. According to Collins, the trends in demand have been largely unpredictable, akin to someone unexpectedly turning on a hose and forcing CAPS and the University to adapt to increasing requests for counseling appointments.

However, it’s important to appreciate the fact that more students who need help are seeking help in the first place. The college mental health crisis shows that stigma for seeking help with mental health and counseling has largely been mitigated, certainly a victory for activism and outreach efforts from mental health advocates and CAPS.

Emory must not only focus on surface-level accomplishments, such as constructing new buildings, when essential mental health services are poorly funded. Instead of disproportionately prioritizing drawing in new applicants, the administration should take care of the students already here.

If Emory wants to consistently market CAPS as its primary resource for struggling students, then the University must fund it accordingly.

Ryan Fan (19C) is from Stony Brook, N.Y.