A freshman from Missouri couldn’t cope with the academic pressures of Columbia, moved back home, and hung himself in his basement. A decathlete at the University of Pennsylvania couldn’t cope with the pressure of being a small fish in a big pond and slit her wrists. An international sophomore here at Princeton, outwardly content in every way, was found dead in his room one year ago.
Appearances can be deceiving, especially at Princeton. Some Princeton students like to put up a front of “effortless perfection,” juggling up to six difficult classes, umpteen extracurricular activities, and campus jobs while making it all seem like a breeze, even though it might not be clear that they are struggling inside. Academic pressure and threat of social isolation is negatively affecting students across the country. Now more than ever, mental health is of the utmost importance. Universities must offer more resources for mental health counseling.
Although Princeton currently has great resources such as the Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources and Education office and Counseling and Psychological Services, improvements still need to be made in terms of spreading awareness and investing more in these resources. In addition to these, there are also resources like Princeton Peer Nightline — a peer listening service — that could benefit from having more depth, particularly in terms of how much they can to do help in a crisis situation.
Despite an abundance of mental health resources, the majority of students do not know that they exist or what they are meant to be used for. According to Ananya Mittal ’20, a Peer Health Adviser in Butler College, “These resources have no point if they’re just there. People need to be acquainted with their options.” Indeed, not enough effort is being made to spread awareness. A “resources for students” webpage would help students specifically match their needs. Further possible steps for the future include better orientation programs for freshmen and better advertisement of the Mental Health Initiative. As Mittal puts it, “creating awareness requires almost no investment. It’s all there — we just need to tell people about it.”
This lack of awareness causes a domino effect of overbooking and lack of availability for the resources that students are aware of, such as CPS and SHARE. Making students aware of their options will hopefully lead to a redistribution of the student population among resources. Mark-Avery Tamakloe ’18, the PHA at-large residential coordinator, admits that one of the main struggles that the PHAs have faced over the past few years has been familiarizing students with their resources.
When asked about another solution to the problem of availability, Kelly McCabe ’18, the president of SHARE, said that the University should expand the budget allotted to mental health resources to hire more staff. “Although SHARE was able to hire more people this summer and has a 24/7 emergency number for immediate counselling, there still can be a slight delay in appointments,” McCabe added. This problem was also addressed by Tamakloe, who said that “getting an initial appointment at CPS has an average wait time of two weeks, which is also the average time in between appointments. CPS should be enlarged to meet the needs of the students as the demand is growing.” The wait time between the appointments is especially concerning for students who need weekly appointments but who cannot afford outside therapy. In these cases, the University reimburses the students up to $300 per semester for the cost of outside therapy, but this is not sufficient for something that can cost from $200 to $300 an hour, explained Mittal.
Lastly, the depth of some of the on-campus resources is questionable, particularly Princeton Peer Nightline. This is an anonymous peer listening service that operates on Tuesday and Friday nights. The idea is that it provides empathetic, non-judgmental listeners who redirect students in crisis to a CPS counselor on call, if need be. It is a good resource in the sense that it is an easy, immediate point of access, but the person on the other end of the phone cannot do anything per se. They don’t know where you are, who you are, and so if the student is in a crisis situation, they cannot prevent anything from happening. Resources like these are great for emergency contact, but they cannot take the place of regular appointments with a counselor, a system that the University really needs to focus on improving.
That is not to say that Princeton does not have good resources, and it’s not like appointments are not available. But for such a prevalent problem, constant improvements and updates need to be made to ensure that the system is as efficient as possible, and so more awareness of mental health counseling should be spread and the University should invest more to expand its resources.
Urvashi Uberoy is a sophomore from New Delhi, India. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.