Jason Wu/Sun Assistant Photography Editor

A student studies outside of the Cornell Health Building, Ho Plaza. Cornellians express frustration as they voice that Cornell Health fails to provide adequate support.

March 28, 2022

Students Experience Frustration Over University’s Mental Health Resources

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Editor’s Note: This article discusses mental health (i.e. depression, anxiety, stress, etc.). Students were given aliases to protect their privacy.

The recent death of three Cornellians during this spring semester sparked campus-wide discussion regarding student mental health. While Cornell provides its undergraduate and graduate students with professional mental health care through Cornell Health’s Counseling and Psychological Services, many students say that Cornell’s current initiatives are not enough.

From fall 2019 to spring 2020, Cornell conducted a Mental Health Review of its students. The review found that 42 percent of Cornell undergraduates were “unable to function for at least a week due to depression, stress or anxiety.” In comparison, the figure was 33 percent in 2015. 

Some students feel that the University does not provide adequate measures to help students with mental health support services. 

“Before I knew much about Cornell, I knew Cornell was known as ‘the school with the nets [under bridges].’ You can tell there is something tangibly different on this campus,” said Gracie Gallen ’24. “You can tell that people here are in pain, and their needs are not being met to the extent that they should be.”

Many students who use the University’s counseling services have voiced their dissatisfaction with Cornell Health’s response. 

Roberts ’23 called CAPS for an appointment about a week into the fall 2020 semester after experiencing feelings of depression.

“They told me they had no availability until after Thanksgiving Break — so until December,” Roberts said. “So, I just decided to find someone in the local Ithaca area.”

Violet ‘23 also experienced a long wait through CAPS, despite her pressing need for an anxiety medication. “I remember I tried to get an appointment with a psychiatrist in June, but I was told the first appointment available was in October. That is just for the initial screening,” Violet said.

Many students believe that long wait times for appointments can be attributed to understaffing. 

“I remember I had a very urgent need for a CAPS appointment, and to accommodate me, Cornell Health postponed another student’s appointment and gave me their spot,” Violet said. “That poses a big problem for the other student.” 

When Roberts tried to find counseling her freshman year, she was turned away by CAPS after a fifteen minute consultation. 

“They told me I just need to manage my stress better and that I don’t need therapy. After a year in private practice counseling, I know that I actually had mental health issues that needed to be addressed,” Roberts said.

Roberts believes that this dismissive action is a result of an inadequate number of CAPS counselors.

Paired with understaffing, students voice that Cornell lacks mental health specialists for specific issues. Sidney ’23 told The Sun that while she thought her CAPS counselor was an excellent confidant that met these needs, she was unqualified to help with her Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Violet also shared this sentiment, stating that “getting an OCD specialist was impossible” at Cornell CAPS.

Gallen is a trainer at Cornell’s Empathy, Assistance and Referral Service, which provides peer mentorship and empathy training to Cornell students. While EARS is no longer allowed to provide counseling services to Cornell students and members of the Ithaca community, Gallen insists that it is still an important resource. 

“One of the key pillars of EARS is ‘there is no problem too small,’” Gallen said. “As long as there are people not getting CAPS appointments on time and as long as there is a stigma around mental health, EARS is going to have a place at Cornell.”

EARS funding has recently increased after the passage of an appeal in the Student Assembly Appropriations Committee. Duncan Cady ’23 and other SA members pushed for an appeal that EARS had made to increase its funding for promotional materials and other functional aspects of the organization. 

While changes regarding CAPS and Cornell Health are not within the SA’s jurisdiction, Cady told The Sun that the SA has the ability to grant more funding toward EARS. It “was an investment in mental health that the SA could control.”