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A letter to CUNY: We need you to invest in our mental health

Navigating life as a college student is difficult – having to worry about assignments, extracurricular activities, working, financial aid, and more. Dealing with mental health as a college student adds even more layers of hurdles. I have struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember, upon entering college my anxiety started to become more and more overwhelming. This has taken a negative toll on the way that I perform and present myself in classes. Since mental health is stigmatized, I never felt comfortable speaking up, I constantly internalized all of my feelings and told myself there was something wrong with me. As the COVID pandemic hit, it truly felt like my world was ending. I had to be stuck at home, while also trying to process the tragedies the world was facing. Feelings of hopelessness filled up my thoughts, and my mental health declined more and more.

The truth is, I’m not just one of the few college students who suffer from mental health. In fact, even before COVID, Healthy CUNY and the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy declared through their research that one out of every six CUNY students experienced depression. One out of five CUNY students experienced anxiety disorders. One in six experienced moderate or severe psychological distress. These numbers are scary, and colleges must recognize that mental health is just as important as physical health. I have heard many stories from peers that sought counseling from their CUNY schools, and have been told to wait months for an appointment. This issue must be addressed now.

Students deserve to have effective and safe spaces in order to address any mental health illnesses they might be going through. Colleges and state officials must work together with urgency in order to make sure this doesn’t happen for much longer. If we want our students to succeed we must invest and make sure they get the help they deserve. The way to do that is by ensuring that there is at least one counselor per 1,000 students. We must also ensure that counselors at CUNY reflect CUNY’s student body and their identities. That means we need counselors who not only understand our students but who also will effectively target traumas. Having this type of support would not only help me but also to the many students who are struggling.

Lia Guzman Genao is a junior at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY and a member of YI-New York’s Fall 2021 Young Advocates Program.