CUNY expands mental health services to keep up with students’ needs during the pandemic

CUNY

CUNY

Emanuela Gallo, News Editor

CUNY has allocated $5 million through the federal CARES Act toward expanding mental health services to address the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on students.

The expansion benefits students from across all 18 senior and community colleges, each receiving about $278,000.

“We are committed to expanding and strengthening the mental health services available to our students during this uncertain and isolating time,” CUNY Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez said in a statement.

The money will be used for hiring more clinical staff. It will also go toward the eight-hour course and exam that is necessary for training and certifying the 120 clinical staff needed in providing online counseling services.

These services include face-to-face therapy sessions, health and wellness assessments, referrals and the monitoring of patients’ progress.

“It will allow us to reach more students who need mental health support, and it will allow us to train staff and faculty on critical mental health concerns and how to effectively connect students to services,” Dr. Teresa Hurst, a licensed psychologist and the director of Baruch’s Counseling Center, said.

Some of the money is expected to be used toward purchasing new technology that allows students to access these services, such as a crisis texting service that facilitates instant connection between counselors and students.

Existing services, such as eCheckUp and 10 Minute Mind, will also be expanded to include substance use screening and mindfulness meditation.

Hurst discussed how Baruch’s Counseling Center will be affected by the expansion.

“We will be able to provide more mental health services to our students, including a suicide prevention counselor and a trauma counselor through May 14, 2021. With these funds, CUNY will also be offering a text-based treatment service for students residing in other countries at this time, in addition to some other services,” she said.

This month, Healthy CUNY is expected to publish a “Guide to Surviving and Thriving at CUNY.” It was written by a team of students and faculty primarily from the CUNY School of Public Health. Its goal is to support students who are seeking help by providing CUNY and community resources.

Mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, among students have been worsened by the pandemic.

“Many CUNY students face significant burdens that affect their mental health and, consequently, their academic success. The pandemic has only exacerbated these challenges.” Matos Rodríguez said.

Hurst echoed this sentiment.

“I am grateful that CUNY is prioritizing the mental health of our students at this time. Due to the pandemic, college students are experiencing unprecedented levels of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues,” she said.

The Healthy CUNY COVID-19 student survey, conducted at the height of the pandemic in the spring, collected data on CUNY students’ mental health.

Of the respondents, 40% reported experiencing nervousness and anxiety for the majority of the prior two weeks.

About 33% reported feeling depressed, helpless, worried and having little interest in doing things during the majority of the prior two weeks.

These numbers have risen since 2018, most likely due to the pandemic. The student survey conducted then found that fewer than half of the 2020 respondents reported these negative feelings.

Hurst emphasized the importance of funding mental health services in the future.

“The funding needs to be spent by May 14, 2021. It is important that CUNY and the New York State government continue to prioritize the mental health of our students beyond the spring of 2021 through the funding of counselor positions,” she said.