Editorial: Tufts should expand mental health services

Disclaimer: MJ Griego is a columnist for the Daily. They were not involved in the writing of this editorial.

For most students, the end of the year means Spring Fling apparel orders, afternoons sprawled on the President’s Lawn and finals season, followed by everyone packing up and going home. This rollercoaster of a transition puts a big strain on students’ mental health, and while Counseling and Mental Health Services’ (CMHS) resources are extensive, many students do not feel that the care they need is always accessible.

It seems that there simply aren’t enough CMHS staff members to satisfy all students’ needs. Wait times can be long, especially for students suffering from time-sensitive issues and living in the fast-paced college world. Oftentimes, calling in for an appointment must be done over a week in advance. Though there is a counselor-on-call at all times for emergency situations, it is left up to students to determine individually what constitutes such a situation.

To deal with high student demand for mental health services, Tufts has begun to outsource care. While there is nothing wrong with seeking help off campus and the university has laid out thoughtful steps to do so, not every student can realistically pursue this option. Seeking a local provider can be costly, and appointments add up quickly — the more help you need, the more you pay. Outsourcing mental health services puts low-income students at a disadvantage and cannot be a replacement for on-campus mental health experts.

One student, junior MJ Griego, described some of the problems with CMHS’ reliance on sending students to outside counselors in a Sept. 13, 2016 Daily article. After revealing to a CMHS counselor that they were experiencing suicidal thoughts, the counselor suggested they seek help outside of the university.

“She gave me a page of phone numbers to find my own counselor, which wouldn’t have been a big deal if I were actually functioning,” MJ wrote to the Daily last fall. “But in the midst of depression I couldn’t even mentally grasp the steps it would take to call a bunch of counselors, tell them my story, get to their offices, decide who was best for me and then go to a session every week while trying not to fail all my classes.”

For minority students hoping to be counseled by a clinician of the same race or religion, the deficit of counselors is even more problematic. Hiring more clinicians of color, which Tufts began to pursue last spring in response to demands from #TheThreePercent, would not only to better serve Tufts’ students, but would also minimize the burden on its staff.

In addition to outside services, there are alternatives to professional mental health services on campus, such as Ears for Peers, a student-run, anonymous hotline that runs from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. every day. Despite this group’s dedication and availability, the responsibility of the student body’s mental health should not be left to uncertified peers.

Of course, hiring more mental health clinicians costs money. But mental health is one of the areas where spending more is pretty much always worthwhile — there is no such thing as “too accessible.” Bringing on new mental health staff is vital to ensuring that every student receives the kind of care they need, right when they need it.