Updates to mental health reform initiatives continue.

Vas Mathur / Sun File Photo

Updates to mental health reform initiatives continue.

March 21, 2019

Lombardi Announces Mental Health Reforms, Students ‘Skeptical’ But Hopeful

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In an email to students on Wednesday night, vice president for student and campus life Ryan Lombardi outlined plans for sweeping reforms to student mental health services. Some students, however, questioned whether Lombardi’s promises would result in meaningful improvements to Cornell’s frayed mental health support system.

Limited updates on the progress of the internal review of the campus environment and culture included that the team is acting upon feedback gathered from students from a fall survey. This review, spearheaded by a committee of students, staff and faculty, will act concurrently with an external review of Cornell mental health services.

The external review team, according to Lombardi’s email, will “come to campus and evaluate our services through the lens of best practices in collegiate and community mental health” starting in the fall of 2019. The source or members of the team were not specified.

Last semester, a student led mental health task force submitted a letter with detailed policy recommendations regarding mental health services to Cornell administration, The Sun previously reported.

One of the changes announced in Lombardi’s email addresses an issue in that letter: reforming Counseling and Psychological Services interviews.

Come fall 2019, CAPS will discontinue phone interviews with the introduction of in-person “same-day initial sessions,” Lombardi wrote. Additionally, he said that the number of openings will be modified to accommodate all students each day. CAPS sessions will also be matched in “length and number of sessions to students’ needs/goals.”

Lombardi also promised to “[Enhance] students’ access to psychotropic medication management services,” by fall 2019. Psychotropic medication includes anxiolytic, antidepressant, and antipsychotic drugs. Cornell currently offers “evaluation and medication management for students also receiving counseling at Cornell Health,” according to its website, as well as filling prescriptions for these medications in-house.

Several university reviews of mental health resources have been conducted in the past, including an external review conducted by the JED Foundation that was criticized by advocacy group The Sophie Fund. After Wednesday’s announcement, students expressed optimism about seeing progress.

Olivia Gee ’22 is “glad that Cornell is making mental health reform a top priority,” she told The Sun, taking particular note of the new CAPS interview format.

“I think a lot of students are concerned with the lack of availability of immediate counseling; a quicker response time to get in-person help could help minimize a lot of the damage that students face as a result of mental health-related issues,” Gee said.

Brennan Kosut ’22 expressed similar anticipation for the proposed reforms, detailing experiences he has witnessed as a first-year student.

“I personally know someone who was told they couldn’t be seen anytime soon for an appointment, as CAPS was booked two months into the future. Another has been waiting for nearly three months for a referral to off-campus medical facilities to get screened for meds,” Kosut told The Sun. “The current system, though well-intentioned, is simply overburdened.”

This past fall, as reported by The Sun, Cornell Health hired more counselors and expanded services — while announcing another ‘comprehensive’ review. Some students said that they believe that the system, however, still has a long way to go.

Kosut highlighted the need to continue increasing staff size and accessibility, stating that he hopes “the measures Cornell is taking will include expanding staff to meet the university’s need for increased availability of professionals, as well as a streamlined process for getting off-site help when needed.”

Many upperclassmen appreciated Lombardi’s promises, but questioned the timeliness and effectiveness of the reforms.

Elaine Sagalchik ’20 said that she is “a bit skeptical of how soon these initiatives will be placed into effect, and how effective they will be in reaching the entire student body.”

Katarina Schwartsman ’20 similarly questioned how long it would take the reforms to yield a significant impact for “everyone that’s on campus right now.”

“I don’t know if it’s going to be quick enough for [current] upperclassmen to use it,” Schwartsman said.

Looking over the reforms, Andrew Gottler ’20 questioned the methodology for determining “student need,” something Lombardi promised to take into consideration in the reforms.

“What is the rating system in how we are determining student need?” Gottler said. “It seems like they are taking the same problematic framework used in the phone assessments and now applying that further in the timeline of care.”

The proposed reforms — which come after internal, external and student-led reviews of Cornell’s mental health system — will begin to be implemented next fall.

Support services are available to all members of the Cornell community. Students may consult with counselors from Cornell Health by calling 607-255-5155. Students may speak with a peer counselor by calling EARS at 607-255-3277. Employees may call the Faculty Staff Assistance Program at 607-255-2673. For additional resources, visit caringcommunity.cornell.edu.