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CUNY Allocates $5 Million for Mental Health Services

Hunter College will be using the allocated money to expand mental health services at the Wellness Center.
Hunter College will be using the allocated money to expand mental health services at the Wellness Center.

 

During their freshman year, Hunter student Gillian Ochoa visited Hunter’s Wellness Center, seeking support for school related stress and anxiety. After one intake session at the center, Ochoa, a studio arts major at Hunter who uses they/them pronouns, was referred elsewhere for therapy. Deterred, Ochoa said it felt like the staff at the center didn’t have the time or resources to see them. 

Now, with the recent announcement of CUNY allocating $5 million toward mental health services to combat COVID-19 related stress, students like Ochoa may have access to more counselors and long-term therapy services across the campuses. 

By expanding the number of mental health professionals certified in teletherapy, short-term care and crisis management, Hunter aims to help students facing pandemic-related issues.  “These counselors will also be involved in the development and implementation of workshops and support groups with the goal of reaching and serving a wide variety of Hunter College students, said Martin Pino,, director of  Hunter’s Counseling and Wellness Services.

Worldwide, one third of college freshmen reported symptoms of mental health disorders due to school related stress, according to a 2018 study conducted by the American Health Association. The same study found that most university counseling centers were ill-equipped to take care of all of the students seeking help as part of what AHA’s researchers are calling “a key global mental health issue.” The COVID-19 pandemic only compounded the mental health struggles students are facing. CUNY cited the growing need for remote counseling services as a definitive factor in why they chose to invest the money they received through the federal CARES act in wellness centers across campuses. 

Ochoa said the expansion couldn’t come sooner, especially given the added stress of remote learning during a pandemic. They said they only wished the expansion had been implemented earlier, when they first sought out their services. “It just felt really depersonalized, almost like they had no time to talk to me,” said Ochoa about the first time they sought out therapy. “It sucked to be at the wellness center and not be able to get care at the wellness center.”

Fellow student Kana Tateishi, a senior sociology major, said she appreciated the guidance she received from the center her freshman year, but felt she needed more support. “It feels like there aren’t enough counselors for the student body,” said Tateishi. She attended one intake followed by two short term therapy sessions before she was referred out for more long term therapy. The symptoms she was experiencing and the stress of school made it difficult for her to seek out any of the therapists they directed her to. “I’m depressed so it’s already hard for me to go to the intake appointment,” she said. “To expect me to go to these institutions with long waitlists and that aren’t affordable is a lot.”

Pandemic related stress is what first drove Sarah Farr to seek out counseling. The 25-year-old graduate student worked at a nursing home when the pandemic began. Her anxiety worsened as patients of hers died from the virus. In search of a support system, she turned to Hunter’s online therapy services. “They helped me identify next steps and what I had to do to feel emotionally better and I’m thankful for that,” said Farr. She said that while the counseling she received was helpful, she wished more services were offered to students. 

Tateishi said she is excited at the prospect of more help for students and hopes to see an expansion of services in line with what students are asking of the wellness center. “It’s great that they’re getting money,” she said. “I just hope that they listen to student feedback and invest it in a good way.”

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