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Don’t Build a New Library, Hire Some More Therapists

Willa Grace Hart

Posted on February 6, 2020 13:20

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Colleges claim to want to help their students struggling with mental health issues, but they won't put their money where their mouth is.

Colleges talk a big game about mental health services and accessibility for students on campus, but they don’t walk the walk. A startling 39% of American college students are dealing with one or more mental illnesses, and over 10% report that they’ve considered suicide in the past year alone - yet many major universities have extremely limited resources for those seeking mental health care.


Even when these resources do exist, they are often underfunded and under-supported, stumbling under the weight of ever-increasing student demand. Colleges often claim they don’t have the money to support their students - but somehow, they find the budget for massive and unnecessary buildings renovations.


Take The University of Michigan for example. It recently completed an $85 million renovation to its student union, with a goal of creating more spaces for student organizations to meet on campus. The renovation’s budget was approved in 2016, the same year that the Office of the Provost reported that student demand on mental health services had increased 100% since 2009. In response, the Provost recommended increasing the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) program budget - enough to add one whole extra counselor to the group.


$85 million to make an old building prettier, but only a few thousand to improve mental health services?

It’s a startling comparison - and, as many students noted when returning to the union, seemingly largely aesthetically motivated. By replacing the Wendy’s with a Taco Bell and reupholstering the cushions, the college benefactors clearly want the University of Michigan to look like a modern and prosperous place to go to school - but they aren’t actually interested in putting in the work to get it there.

If that was their goal, they’d redirect a few million of those dollars to the CAPS fund. After all, what do these students really need: high-ceilings in their study lounges, or substantive mental health care? The answer seems obvious.


Similar trends can be seen at other major universities. At Cornell, the ratio of undergraduates to mental health providers is almost 500:1. At Indiana University, the same school that recently spend 12 million dollars on a library renovation, it’s a whopping 1,500:1. As a result, wait time for appointments with mental health counselors hovers around 2-3 weeks at many prestigious universities. For patients struggling with mental illness, a wait time this long can be devastating - and even deadly.


Colleges need to do better. School boards need to listen to their students when deciding how to spend their endowments. Until colleges make a real and concerted effort to reach out, the mental health crisis will continue to worsen. It will come at a cost to the universities’ coffers, but that cost is worth it. After all, what looks better for your college: having a shiny new library and suicidal students, or genuinely happy students clicking away on Dell laptops? You decide.

Willa Grace Hart

Posted on February 6, 2020 13:20

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