The Ithaca College administration’s denial of the Faculty Council’s request for a new staff member for the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services has generated disappointment among mental health advocates on campus.
Sophomore Jesse Rolfe, president of Active Minds, said the organization’s members are disappointed and frustrated with the outcome.
“This decision is another unfortunate instance of the administration failing to recognize the importance of CAPS as a resource for students,” Rolfe said in an email. “It sends the message that the mental health/well-being of the student body is not a serious concern and that it will just continue to be swept under the rug. It shows we still have a lot of work to do in terms of bringing the conversation surrounding mental health out into the open and making students’ voices and concerns heard.”
The limited staff presents an issue for students seeking counseling and other resources from CAPS, as it can take several weeks for a student to schedule an appointment at the center for a non-emergency case.
Sophomore Garrett Garneau is one such student who has faced this problem. He has tried to get an appointment for general stress-related issues twice, and both times, he had to wait two to three weeks.
“The problem is they are short-staffed and in high demand, so the waiting list gets backed up,” Garneau said. “When there are more students who need help than staff who can help, it gets bad.”
CAPS Director Deborah Harper approached the Faculty Council Dec. 2, 2014, asking for support on this issue. She said she was disappointed with the decision to not add a staff member but said CAPS is still able to serve students and she will continue to bring the issue forward.
“It’s disappointing that there was no easy yes, but I understand that there are a lot of competing priorities,” she said. “I just don’t want students to think they can’t come to us. Our intention is to serve students the best we can.”
Jason Harrington, associate professor of media arts, sciences and studies and a member of the Faculty Council Executive Committee, motioned for the Faculty Council to request the addition of a CAPS staff member. He said he has had students drop out of school due to mental health issues.
Rory Rothman, senior associate vice president for student affairs and campus life, said while he is supportive of additional staffing for CAPS, he was told an additional counseling position could not be funded by the college at this time.
Linda Petrosino, interim provost and vice president for educational affairs, is the spokesperson for this issue but was not available for comment despite numerous efforts to contact her.
Harrington said if CAPS was to have additional counseling, fewer students may take leaves of absence and the college would save money by not losing those students’ tuition.
“I understand things cost money … but I also think if we can keep two, three, four students from falling out of school, that’s financial savings,” he said.
Sophomore Tate Dremstedt, transfer-student senator of the Student Government Association, said in response to the denial of the Faculty Council’s request, the SGA has begun conversations about mental health and met with Active Minds March 25 to further the discussion.
Since the mid-1990s, university and college counseling centers experienced a growth in the number of students seeking counseling and mental health services and for increasingly serious issues, according to the American Psychological Association. The 2014 National Survey of College Counseling Centers reported that 52 percent of counseling center clients at institutions across the country have severe psychological problems, as opposed to 16 percent of clients in 2000.
At the college, Harper said about 16 to 17 percent of students request counseling services through CAPS, which currently has a counselor-to-student ratio of approximately one to 1,000, compared to a ratio of one to between 400 and 600 at private colleges like Colgate University and Skidmore College.
The considerable increase in students seeking mental health resources on college campuses has brought into question why this demand has risen in recent years. Sophomore Jesse Rolfe, president of Active Minds said the reason is twofold — the first part being the increase in recognition and acceptance of mental health issues due to the work of advocacy organizations and the second part being the pressures of being a college student.
Harper said she agreed that the work of advocacy organizations has made students more comfortable to seek help for their mental health.
“High demand does reflect a decrease in stigma associated with mental illness and the stigma associated with even asking for help,” she said. “Organizations such as Active Minds encourage students to pay attention to their mental health and to the needs of their friends who may be at risk for suicide.”
Rolfe said the stress college entails has contributed to the rise in demand for mental health resources on more grounds than just academic pressure.
“College itself is a very intense atmosphere where you have all of these things,” he said. “It’s not just academia. There’s the changing social life, and you’re meeting new people.”
Harrington said this pressure has increased because of the stress associated with the rise in the cost of higher education over the last few decades.
“I think students are more aware of the stakes and the price of what they’re doing,” he said. “They come to college and go into extreme debt and they’re supposed to be performing well, but they’re also young and figuring out things in their lives and here they have to get good grades. They have to get onto this committee and they have to do all this stuff, and I think it’s very stressful.”
The recognition of the stressful environment colleges produce prompted Congress to pass the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act in 2004, which created three programs to address the mental and behavioral health needs of young people: Campus Suicide Prevention, State/Tribal Youth Suicide Prevention and the Technical Assistance Center.
The Campus Suicide Prevention program supports youth suicide grants at 175 universities and colleges across the country, Alexandra Ginsberg, legislative and federal affairs associate at the APA, said. Its purpose is to facilitate awareness and education in order to prevent suicide among college students through funding prevention, education and outreach services.
Ginsberg said the APA has prioritized developing the Campus Suicide Prevention program.
“Untreated emotional and behavioral problems have the potential to impact many other people on campus, including roommates, classmates, faculty and staff,” she said. “When students receive help for psychological issues, such as anxiety and/or depression, we see its positive impact on academic success, retention and personal well-being.”
The GLSMA allows interested and eligible college counseling organizations to apply for funds to support suicide prevention efforts. However, CAPS has not done so because it had already been conducting suicide programming for about a decade before the GLSMA was introduced, and the process for applying for these grants is too time-intensive, Harper said.
Instead, CAPS has directed its resources toward its counseling, consulting and crisis response services as well as local program development, such as Pathways Training, which is a mental health crisis prevention and intervention program that looks to reduce the incidence of crises by building knowledge, confidence and skills.
With the Faculty Council’s request for a new hire denied by the President’s Council, Harrington said he is frustrated that his students may struggle to get the help they need in a timely and effective manner.
“I need to know that when students come to me for help and I turn them to CAPS that there’s professional support there for them, because that’s what I’m supposed to do,” he said. “I know the people [at CAPS] are experts and are terrific. They just need more help. I think this is about supporting students in general and making sure the college experience is a healthy one.”
Harper said CAPS intends to continue to work to expand its resources and provide the help students need.
“CAPS needs additional resources, and we will continue to advocate for adequate on-campus support for students,” Harper said. “While we may not be able to provide long-term care for all students, we want to help students get the help they need to enjoy personal well-being and to succeed in school.”
Editor’s note: This story originally featured a photo illustration that depicted students waiting outside of the Center for Counseling and Wellness. This image was removed, because it was possible to misinterpret this image as a real photo and not as a staged image.