Administration must make mental health highest priority, give CAPS more funding

Brandi Doyal, Views Editor

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As campaigns erupt across campus advocating for awareness about mental health issues, one thing has become apparent. Our campus needs change.

Tulane has seen many hardships this semester with the deaths of five students, three of which were a result of suicide, President Michael Fitts said Monday at the University Senate. As college students, we are subject to a sad truth — mental health is often unstable in people our age. According to a 2011 American College Health Association survey the suicide rate among young adults, ages 15-24, has tripled since the 1950s and suicide ranks as the third most common cause of death among college students.

The university needs to advertise available resources more effectively and emphasize the need for support in our community. When teachers continue class the next day, ignoring the tragedies that have struck the community, students do not feel support from the community. The administration did not formally address the first two suicides, and it tragically took a third before mental health became a priority.

Students Shefali Arora and Renata Voci started the “Dear President [Michael] Fitts” letters, an open Google document students could contribute to in order to express their feelings in light of the recent tragedies that have struck our campus.

More than 70 students wrote letters, sharing their thoughts and experiences with mental illness.  Some showed hostility toward the administration for its lack of response to these tragedies and asked that the university put effort into increasing awareness about mental health issues. Though there are other resources available to students, most of the letters focused on the need for a reform of CAPS for the sake of student well-being.

CAPS is a young program, just now in its third year, but it has remained underfunded and overcrowded. The entire program is shoved into a tiny corner of a building when it should warrant at least an entire floor to itself.

The Undergraduate Student Government passed legislation on Tuesday creating a roundtable discussion and issue summit with key leaders in our community such as President Michael Fitts and Donna Bender, director of Counseling and Psychological Services, on the topics discussed in the “Dear President Fitts” Google document. This roundtable discussion will include students from the community, as well as members of USG.

Bender said that while CAPS is currently only able to offer short-term care and can only see students for a semester, she believes the department can change if given increased resources and more space.

It takes an enormous amount of courage to go to CAPS, and being outsourced to an off-campus professional after only a semester of treatment can be discouraging for some students and may cause them to stop therapy altogether. Whether it is financial reasons or even transportation concerns that make the transition difficult, administration and students alike know we can do better.

The administration needs to give more funding to CAPS, as well as space and room to grow. Students sometimes wait more than two weeks for an appointment, though walk-ins are available in emergency situations. As demand for these services increases, Tulane must move forward and recognize how it can better aid the community. As our motto states, we must do not for one’s self, but for one’s own.