At first glance, the UC Santa Barbara’s Counseling and Psychological Services, or CAPS, website appears inviting, with bright colors and various tabs guiding students toward counseling and other options.
However, as many UCSB students have discovered, receiving the necessary help is a far more complex process than what the website’s homepage conveys.
“They rescheduled my appointment four times because my therapist wasn’t going to be in. By the time I finished my first session, the therapist had devalued most of my problems and asked me, “so when are you going to tell me what the problem actually is?” I’ll never go to CAPS again; that was an absolute train wreck. UCSB advocates so vehemently for mental health, but from what I gather from other students (plus my experience) CAPS is hot garbage,” wrote a user on Reddit in a discussion titled “Therapists on campus suck.”
Though prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, CAPS was known to be accessible to any student in need, during the transition into online learning during the pandemic, the entire program suddenly experienced a mass influx of students seeking help.
The number of students across University of California campuses needing professional help and support for their mental health rose significantly during the pandemic and continues to do so today, even after all University of California campuses returned to in-person instruction.
Unfortunately, rather than being able to turn to their University for support, students are forced to endure extreme wait times and a lack of effort from those employed at CAPS. These factors indicate that CAPS is understaffed and unprepared to properly care for the rising number of students in need.
However, instead of putting the staff and administrators in charge of CAPS at fault, what is truly to blame is the severe lack of funding for the UC’s mental health services as a whole. This article examines the need for increased funding, resources, and concern for student mental health services across the University of California campuses.
In the summer of 2019, a few months before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a budget of $214 billion for the 2019-2020 year was passed by the California Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom for the University of California system. However, only $5.3 million was allocated toward improving mental health services for the entire UC system.
At the time, this allocation appeared to be a step towards making many necessary improvements. However, as this amount was to be split among all nine UC schools, $5 million was hardly enough to pay for the staff members already employed at CAPS.
Furthermore, between 2007 and 2018, the number of students seeking mental health services across UC campuses rose by 78%, according to an article from EdSource. Due to the combination of COVID-19 and online learning, this percentage undoubtedly has continued to increase drastically between 2019 and the present day.
An evaluation conducted by the UC Student Association provides further insight into the prominent need to improve mental health services across the UC system. As a part of their #HowAreYou campaign, UCSA conducted evaluations for student mental health services at each undergraduate UC campus, posing questions regarding the accessibility, diversity, and outreach of their CAPS programs.
Each campus received a grade based on responses from staff and students. The results of the evaluation revealed the average grade was a C. Though at all UC schools, receiving a C is described as “adequate,” with so many students relying on their University for support in their battle against anxiety, depression, and other issues, this grade is entirely unacceptable.
The continuous rise in students across the UC system seeking mental health services and students and faculty ranking their university’s CAPS far below average is hard evidence that the UC mental health program is drastically underfunded.
Fortunately, the 2021 to 2022 budget for the UC system shows increased concern over students' well-being. This past year, $20.3 million of the UC system budget was allocated toward campus-provided student mental health services.
However, as this is the budget for the entire UC system, which consists of 10 universities, each campus is provided only $2.03 million. With the current funding, only minimal improvements can be made. A little more than $2 million is far from the necessary amount to accommodate the increasing need for mental health services.
Though all UC universities provide free short-term counseling, a factor some may use to claim that the programs receive enough funding, this argument skims over the harsh reality. Without more funding from the legislature, students will continue to wait weeks for any type of appointment and receive below-satisfactory care.
Along with this, as the mental health issues caused by the pandemic are long-lasting, with many still suffering from stress, anxiety, and depression, many students may require counseling for a period that extends beyond what is covered by their university.
Until more funds are allocated towards CAPS at each UC Campus, thousands will be forced to continue their battle with little to no professional assistance.
In conclusion, with a budget totaling $46.9 billion for the 2022-2023 school year, is asking the legislature for more than $2.3 million per campus to provide students suffering from mental health issues with the necessary support from their University really too much?
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