Alice Song / Sun Staff Photographer

Greg Eells, Director of CAPS, speaks at the Student Assembly meeting ,Thursday.

January 26, 2018

Student Assembly Discusses Shortage of Mental Health Counseling Services on Campus

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Counseling and Psychological Services has too few staff members to keep up with student demand, the program’s director told the Student Assembly on Thursday.

During his presentation to assembly members, CAPS director Gregory T. Eells cited recent PULSE data showing that 43 percent of students have some “difficulty functioning” due to anxiety and related mental health issues.

Although the demand for a free, 15 minute phone assessment done by CAPS has gone up 20 percent over a three-year period, Eells said the program has not seen a proportionate increase in staffing, leading to longer wait times. Additionally, he said that more students are coming to CAPS with a history of mental health concerns, and staffing levels often can’t meet the demand.

Eells presented a graph illustrating the relationship between the number of visits to CAPS and the number of full-time employees since 1996. Longer wait times occur when the demand for visits exceeds the availability of employees, he said.

“Where we’re set for the spring semester is probably the biggest gap we’ve seen since 1996,” he said.

Assemblymember Mayra Valadez ’18 said she wanted to reiterate that she’s talked to many students who said that the process of seeking help at Cornell can be stressful.

Eells also elaborated that underrepresented minorities often experience distress more acutely as a result of systemic discrimination, including public statements from the U.S. government.

To address this issue, Eells said that a priority for CAPS is to keep working on hiring diverse staff in order for staff to “look as much like the student body as possible.”

However, Eells did say that recruiting and retaining a diverse staff is potentially challenging, especially because Ithaca is in a rural area.

Eells also talked about CAPS’s commitment to a “comprehensive approach for the whole campus” that includes mental health services for faculty and staff.

In terms of suicide prevention, Eells said that “suicide is a very complicated phenomenon” and something CAPS works very hard to address.

“Cornell is not a suicide school,” he said. “There is no such thing as a suicide school.”

Eells said the S.A. can help by continuing to speak with university leaders and students about the topic.

The assembly also passed a resolution declaring its support of a wind turbine project. Prof. Rebecca Barthelmie, engineering, expressed an intent to submit a proposal to a competition sponsored by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority that called for the development of small-scale wind turbines on or near campus.

The project would generate clean energy and provide research opportunities, according to the resolution.