When Anxiety Meets Apathy

UC continues to neglect student mental health services

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Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) throughout the UC system are not equipped to meet the mental health needs of students, and the UC itself is to blame.

Three in five students nationwide are burdened by anxiety, and around one in four students report it severely hinders their studies. In times as troubled as these, with course load demands equalling a full-time job and a culture consumed by toxicity and animosity, the UC has a duty to provide students with mental health resources — a duty that it is failing to uphold.

For someone bearing the weight of anxiety, the very act of seeking help can be terrifying. Worries of counselors who might not understand their personal situation or fail to recognize their anxieties as legitimate may gnaw at the corners of their mind.

Illustration by Ania Webb

Many with anxiety fear they may get unwarranted and unhelpful judgment instead of supportive guidance. Research from the University of British Columbia (UBC) at Vancouver has found that these fears lead to as few as 15 percent of those navigating anxiety seeking formal treatment.

These fears are ever-present at UCSC — and for a good reason.

A UC Students Association survey found that based on metrics of accessibility, diversity and outreach, UCSC’s mental health services were given a “C” grade.

A “C” grade in mental health services does nothing to reassure those wary of treatment. It only validates their fears of an upsetting counseling session and intensifies those fears ever further.

UCSC’s CAPS specifically is unable to meet the demand of students struggling with their mental health, largely due to a lack of funding. CAPS lacks staff psychologists from a broad range of backgrounds and identities, in quality and quantity.

The impacts of CAPS’ dearth of resources prompted former UCSC Student Union Assembly Vice President of Internal Affairs Grace Shefcik to critique the program in an open letter, decrying a stark lack of diversity among staff psychologists who are unable to adequately serve students from particularly marginalized communities.

Shefcik wrote of several egregious incidents of students being invalidated, ranging from being told their immigrant father was abusive “because that’s how immigrants are” to being told their scars from self-harm weren’t “that bad.”

Yet the UC has neglected to provide the funding necessary for CAPS to even attempt addressing their cultural incompetence, to the detriment of students’ well-being.

The National Institute of Health and the UBC study both note that depression may coexist with anxiety in as many as 50 percent of patients. At its worst, depression can lead to suicidal ideation and, unfortunately, action. UCSC has the highest rate of suicidal ideation, or thoughts of suicide, among UC campuses, and just last spring a UCSC student ended their own life.

Considering these alarming rates of students struggling with mental health and the UC’s complete reluctance to address these issues, it’s hard not to see the UC system as implicit. A 2006 report by the UC Office of the President (UCOP)’s Student Mental Health Committee declared that mental health services are chronically underfunded and stretched far too thin, and that “the cumulative toll of this shortfall in service capacity has had and continues to have a significant negative impact on all campus populations.” As an example, the report notes that in a six-month period UC San Diego lost half of its staff psychologists due to non-competitive salaries.

Prophetically, the committee also said “this situation will not improve over time, and indeed given general societal trends can only further deteriorate without aggressive intervention on the part of the institution.”

Not only is the UC failing to provide mental health services with the resources it needs to deal with an ever-increasing demand, the UC has done so willfully for more than a decade after the committee report.

Shame on the UC for continuously valuing net revenue over the health and happiness of its students. Shame on the UC for knowing full well for years that their lack of intervention is costing students their lives, both figuratively and literally. If the UC cares about the students it so proclaims to serve, it must remedy CAPS’ inadequate funding.