Content warning: This piece contains reference to suicide and mental health issues.
“Get some exercise and stay optimistic.”
This is the advice UC president Michael Drake gave for staying mentally healthy during the pandemic in a recent interview with the National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement at the University of California.
Sometimes exercise and hope doesn’t cut it. The economic downturn and social isolation of the pandemic have increased reports of depression and anxiety among college students.
College students report higher levels of depression and anxiety than the general population. These struggles have been exacerbated by the isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a study conducted by mental health-focused nonprofit Active Minds, one in five college students said their mental health has significantly worsened because of COVID-19. According to the CDC, a quarter of adults aged 18-24 have considered suicide since the pandemic began. A UC Berkeley study showed that depression and anxiety have been most prominent among low-income students, students of color, and LGBTQ+ students.
The UC Santa Cruz Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) department is designed to help address these issues with students. But CAPS has long been underfunded, and without proper resources, it does not always have the capacity to meaningfully help students.
CAPS only has 17 counselors and a total of 27 staff members, or about one staff member for every 792 students. A student who went to CAPS at the beginning of the lockdown describes being lost in “bureaucratic limbo” while trying to find help.
Students need better support for their mental health. In its current state, CAPS does not have the capability to adequately address individual needs. For many, the price of off-campus mental health resources is too high. The university needs to allocate funds to its mental health system in order to properly respond to what many experts determine to be a mental health crisis. Though underfunding is not unique to UC Santa Cruz, it has been a reality across the UC system.
To help address this issue, UCLA students passed a referendum in 2016 that increased student fees by $6 per quarter, $1.5 of which was allocated to CAPS. With this money, UCLA CAPS set up an internal student board that gave feedback on the effectiveness of its services and events. The department also made a 24-hour online hotline accessible to international students.
College students need better programs to aid their mental health. This was true before anyone transitioned to Zoom university.
As students, we can pass a referendum like UCLA, but the onus is on the university to support students’ mental well-being during this difficult time. Students need to feel confident that CAPS will help them and that they will not become stranded in a bureaucratic process that never addresses the problems they are facing.