When Kelsey Wunder began her freshman year as a business-marketing major at Cal State Long Beach, her future seemed bright. Several months later, things had changed.
She began to experience a disconnection from the world around her and feelings of intense anxiety set in. So she did what every student in this situation is advised to do — walk straight over to Counseling and Psychological Services to seek advice. After arriving, Wunder was told that she would be waitlisted and placed in a long line with many others.
“The way the receptionist made me feel when I finally reached out for help was extremely discouraging,” Wunder said. “She made it seem…that others had bigger problems than I did.”
Wunder’s story is not uncommon. Wait times to be seen by a counselor at the Counseling and Psychological Services have often ranged anywhere from three to four weeks.
One exception to this rule is if a student poses an immediate threat to themselves or others and are as a result classified as a police code “51/50.” In cases such as these, students are given immediate priority to see a counselor and response time drastically decreases to mere minutes.
In response to extended wait times, the university has taken strides to remedy this, according to Pamela Ashe, interim director of CAPS. The student health fee rose from $45 to $75 during the fall 2017 semester in an effort to improve wait times experienced by in-need students. As a result, the typical wait has decreased in the last year to a two-week period.
According to Mary Ann Takemoto, associate vice president for student affairs, the increased fee funded a full-time case manager, increased hours for a staff psychiatrist and raised the amount of active counselors by two with the intent to add one more in the upcoming year.
The Counseling and Psychological Services office, located in Brotman Hall, will also be undergoing construction that is expected to be completed by fall 2018. Takemoto also said that the revenue will be funneled into updating student exam rooms to make sure they’re up to code.
However, these additions haven’t been quite enough to eliminate wait times completely for an overflow of stressed students.
“The demand for mental help really exceeds what we can provide,” Takemoto said. “From statistics and data across the country, we now know that more and more students are experiencing anxiety and depression.”
Ashe confirmed that the services have been “woefully understaffed” and that the recent increase was an improvement, but not nearly enough to meet the need for resources on campus.
Senate bill 968 was introduced earlier this year by California Senator Richard Pan and sponsored by the California Faculty Association and Service Employees International Union. The bill would require Cal State universities to employ one full-time-equivalent mental health counselor for every 1,000 students. The bill’s hearing is currently scheduled for April 25, leaving the Senate to determine if they will vote on the bill or table it for another time.
The proposition of this bill, as well as standards set by the International Association of Counseling Services, prompted the campus’ recent hire. There are currently 41,000 students enrolled in the university and a total of 16 counselors and psychiatrists — that’s roughly 2,563 students for every one counselor.
To combat a shortage in funding and staff and an overwhelming amount of students in need, Takemoto said the university has placed a lot of emphasis on promoting mental wellness for students. Yoga, meditation and body positive classes are alternative measures that have been made available to students in lieu of a psychologist’s couch.
Aside from an increased emphasis on mental wellness, Ashe added that the Counseling and Psychological Services relies heavily on outreach through the On-Campus Emergency Assistance Network to extend their reach.
“We have a program here called Project OCEAN that does a lot of our outreach, and that’s the program being threatened right now,” Ashe said. “They go to classes and they do a full presentation on what we call [Question, Persuade, Refer].”
QPR is a proven suicide prevention method recognized by the National Registry of Evidence-based Practices and Policies aimed at teaching people within communities, campuses and dorm halls how to detect early signs of suicidal behavior. Typically, the program teaches faculty, staff and students how to be aware and attentive of suicidal behaviors and warning signs.
According to Ashe, though the project provides one of the most important methods of outreach for suicide prevention on campus, it is currently suffering greatly due to its lack of a head director.
“Right now, Project OCEAN doesn’t have a coordinator and with this upcoming hiring ‘chill,’ Ashe said. “The coordinator position for Project OCEAN seems to be a casualty of this chill and there’s been no commitment that we will in fact hire somebody to fill that position. It’s unclear what will happen with [the project] and who will will be responsible for it.”
The “chill” is part of a projected $11 million budget deficit that also affects the number of tenure track hires and development of renovation projects.