Emerson’s mental health resources need improvement

The+Emerson+Counseling+and+Psychological+Services+office+in+the+Union+Bank+Building.+

Photo: Diana Bravo

The Emerson Counseling and Psychological Services office in the Union Bank Building.

By Editorial Board

Content warning: This editorial discusses topics of depression, anxiety, suicide, and self-harm.

This fall, most Emerson students dutifully followed college-mandated COVID-19 restrictions on travel and social gatherings, which effectively limited the spread of the virus on campus. For many students, it is an easy decision to prioritize the health of their community over the desire to engage in unsafe social practices—nonetheless, the anxiety and social isolation a pandemic presents has taken a toll on students’ mental health.

Although Emerson found success in reducing the spread of COVID on campus, they certainly could do more to support students’ mental health during the pandemic. Mental health decline became an especially prevalent issue since the pandemic began, and asking students to self-isolate for extended periods of time, stop visiting family, and engage in high amounts of screen time in place of social contact, increases the toll on mental health. 

Emerson does offer mental health services, like Emerson Counseling and Psychological Services for free counseling, and The Healing & Advocacy Collective for those who have experienced trauma. These services can benefit students’ mental health, but taking a closer look reveals weaknesses in these services; like limited access to psychiatrists, a focus on short-term solutions, and lack of resources dedicated to mental illnesses other than depression and anxiety.

Isolation has a profound impact on everyone, but in particular, 18-24 year olds—a demographic mostly made up of college students. According to a September report from Inside Higher Ed, 58 percent of college students said they were “moderately or extremely” worried about their mental health, and 46 percent reported that they were anxious about physically returning to campus. About one-quarter of the surveyed students had “seriously considered suicide” in the past 30 days. In 2013, the American Psychological Association reported that only 36.4 percent of students surveyed experienced depression.

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For first-year students especially, social isolation can come as a challenge. The first year of college is a time in which students explore their interests, meet people from different backgrounds, and make new friends. The isolation on campus amid the growing dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic and the separation from home can prove to be a difficult transition.  

Shannon Garrido discussed this in her recent op-ed for The Beacon: “For me, moving to another country away from everyone and everything I have known my whole life is an experience within itself. But what’s most difficult is not having anyone to show you around and make the first few days in the city easier,” she wrote.

In October, The Beacon reported that 30 percent of the 256 students who visited ECAPS in the fall reported seeking services due to COVID-19. Furthermore, 65.6 percent of students who visited ECAPS last semester said the pandemic negatively affected their mental health.

Students also reported increased feelings of loneliness, with 58.6 percent of ECAPS visitors reporting that COVID-19 has made them feel lonely or isolated.

Emersons Counseling and Psychological Services provides a number of services such as individual and group therapy, substance abuse counseling, some prescription medications, and even free psychiatric consultations. However, many of these services are framed as short-term solutions, and counseling is now fully virtual due to COVID-19. Not to mention none of these services are available on weekends, when students do not have classes and often have more scheduling availability. 

While ECAPS does not have a specific session limit for students, they are self-described as a short-term therapy center. The ECAPS website states in their frequently asked questions, “We are not able to see students weekly for their entire time at Emerson, so we may discuss a long-term referral when it feels appropriate to do so.”

Although referral to outside therapy can be helpful, the college cannot control whether these offices accept students’ health insurance, while counseling at ECAPS is free to all students. A solution to this could be to hire more therapists and psychiatrists, so ECAPS would have the staffing necessary to offer free, long-term mental health services to students.

ECAPS lists only one part-time psychiatrist on their website. Psychiatrists can offer counseling, as well as diagnose patients and prescribe medication for treatment. Other mental health experts, like psychologists, can offer patients diagnoses and counseling, but cannot prescribe medication. Considering the undergraduate student population sits at almost 4,000, it seems unusual that there’s only one professional who’s able to prescribe medications for this volume of students.

There is a broad spectrum of mental health issues students experience, and solutions that work for one person may not always work for the other. On-campus events, like Cirque de De-stress, dedicated to helping students’ mental health during finals week are helpful, but they are almost always centered around relieving anxiety or depression. There is a variety of less-common mental health conditions that ECAPS does not advertise support for in their counseling services or workshops. 

Using inclusive language in describing health services and staffing counselors that specialize in less common mental illnesses can help students feel more comfortable reaching out when they need support. The existing resources certainly are beneficial to our community, but they should be inclusive of all students’ needs. 

Emerson plans to merge ECAPS with its Center for Health and Wellness following the conclusion of the spring semester. In an interview, Vice President and Dean for Campus Life Jim Hoppe said the decision was made to increase the resources available for students. 

“The American College Health Association found that when institutions combine the centers, there is greater care, greater satisfaction, and greater utilization of resources,” Hoppe said. 

Hopefully, these mental health resources can be given priority now that both departments will be housed in one office.

While the state of the world isn’t improving anyone’s mental health right now, it’s important to remember that if you’re struggling, you aren’t alone. The isolation that accompanies the pandemic may make you feel like you’re alone if you’re struggling, but the opposite is true. This issue is widespread and too often goes ignored by authoritative bodies who are able to provide assistance. 

Millions of people were struggling with their mental health prior to the pandemic. For many, mandatory quarantining only brought to the surface mental health issues that may have otherwise gone unaddressed. These people need more help right now, yes, but a short-term approach isn’t going to help them cope with long-term problems. Emerson cannot just increase mental health support during the pandemic only to return to their existing system after the fact. 

The Berkeley Beacon Editorial Board is the voice of the student newspaper that looks to serve the Emerson College community with thoughtful insight into ongoings and occurrences affecting their everyday lives. The board’s positions are determined by its members. The board consists of the editor-in-chief, managing editors, and opinion editors. The opinions expressed by the Editorial Board do not impact the paper’s coverage. You can respond to a position brought forward by The Beacon Editorial Board in the form of a Letter to The Editor by email: Letters@BerkeleyBeacon.com.