I remember April 2020 like it was yesterday. In a time where news coverage of the coronavirus felt endless, normal routines of going outside and visiting friends came to a dramatic halt — it felt like a light switch had turned off and I was suddenly in the dark. Feelings of loneliness and anxiousness crept up on me quicker than I could prepare for. It was in these moments that I knew I needed help. Soon after, I began to receive professional mental health counseling. In this judgment-free space, I was able to voice my feelings and my thoughts, and I began to feel less alone.
Since receiving treatment, I’ve realized the full extent to which it has changed my life — the impact has been transformational. Particularly as a college student, receiving professional mental health care on a weekly basis helped me tremendously in doing my school work, managing my stress, and deciding on important school-related decisions. I believe that every student deserves this type of professional care, especially now, as we reel from a full year in quarantine.
College is already very stressful. In a 2018 survey conducted by Healthy CUNY, over half of the nearly 50,000 students surveyed reported that the declining state of their mental health negatively impacted their school work. Additionally, in April 2020, a CUNY-wide survey found 49% of students reported an increased need for mental health support due to the pandemic. These statistics highlight the immense stress that college students often faced, with a pandemic only worsening it. They also reflect how students are not succeeding academically at a rate that they probably want to.
Despite the high need for mental health support, the current state of mental health counseling on CUNY campuses remains subpar. As of October 2020, the staffing ratio of mental health counselors to CUNY and SUNY students is approximately 1:2,400. At one CUNY college, it was reported that the ratio went up to 1:6,900. With the national average across campuses being 1:1,250, this makes these disparities even more startling. The stark imbalances exhibited here affect the accessibility of mental health counselors for so many students.
We need action from our lawmakers and decision makers to resolve these issues. For instance, we must pass the New Deal for CUNY (Senate Bill 4461) and Senate Bill S844, two pieces of legislation that would decrease the ratio for counselors to students to 1:1,000, while also ensuring that each professional is well-trained in their fields. Lawmakers must act soon to meet these pressing needs because every student deserves this type of care. Affordable and accessible mental health counseling is a human right.
Emily Healy is a student at CUNY-City College, and a Spring 2021 Young Advocate with YI-New York.