Given the prevalence of stress and mental illness among college students, it seems reasonable to assume UCLA would prioritize its mental health services. But recent issues at UCLA’s Counseling and Psychological Services office suggest otherwise.
CAPS remains woefully understaffed and underfunded, even though 17 percent more students requested the office’s assistance with mental health issues during fall quarter of last year compared to the previous year. A union representing UCLA mental health professionals noted that CAPS has seen an average of one therapist per month leave since 2016, often for better paying private sector jobs.
Despite these problems, CAPS has had trouble securing periodically allocated funding from the Student Fee Advisory Committee. As of January, the office’s request for additional funding from SFAC, a committee that advises the chancellor’s office on how to use student fees, has not been fulfilled. And if that wasn’t enough, CAPS is locked in protracted contract negotiations with its psychological counselors and therapists, forcing the office to extend wait times for mental health interventions in some cases.
The university and SFAC did not respond to a request for comment on CAPS’ application for funding.
The university must ensure that CAPS is able to maintain quality mental health programs in the short-term so the office can address its long-term financial and personnel difficulties. UCLA must take stopgap measures to shore up the quality of care in the short-term, while devising a long-term plan to ensure CAPS’ effectiveness. The university can achieve this by guaranteeing CAPS additional funding through SFAC for at least three years while it negotiates the details of a labor contract with its mental health professionals and resolves its personnel turnover problem.
Christina Lee, the undergraduate student government’s Student Wellness commissioner, said CAPS’ financial issues could possibly impair the office’s efforts to provide treatment for pressing cases. Delays for treatment have lasted as long as four or five weeks in some cases, according to a recent Daily Bruin article.
The university’s ability to retain psychologists and counselors has also come into doubt. Lee said beyond wage issues, the reasons behind the departure of so many mental health professionals are not well known. But she speculated one possible explanation could be the university’s tepid support for mental health services has demoralized its psychologists and therapists.
Lee added CAPS has attempted to mitigate its lack of resources by referring many students to outside group therapy programs, which she thinks may not always adequately replace traditional clinical care.
CAPS needs a guarantee of short-term funding through SFAC to hire more interim personnel that can address pressing student mental health issues, rather than delaying treatment or outsourcing care to sometimes inadequate alternative programs.
Guaranteeing additional SFAC funding would also allow the office to settle protracted contract negotiations with its mental health professionals. UCLA can do this by having SFAC work with the chancellor’s office to ensure CAPS has guaranteed student fee funding for three years while it identifies a long-term solution. The primary sticking point in contract negotiations with the University has been inadequate pay relative to national averages. In fact, although the median national pay for a clinical psychologist is more than $75,000 a year, the average UCLA counseling psychologist makes only a little more than $69,000 a year.
Additional SFAC funding would give UCLA time to guarantee CAPS’ long-term financial and personnel stability. Ironing out the details of an extended settlement with CAPS psychologists and therapists will not only ensure a continuity of care, but it will also improve the overall quality because the University of California will be in a stronger position to retain experienced, skilled mental health professionals.
Not everyone will support guaranteeing CAPS additional SFAC funding, however. Although few would argue that CAPS should be defunded altogether, some students have maintained that alternative mental health services like Active Minds and other group therapy programs should receive more attention and funding from the university. But while these programs are useful in some cases, UCLA students need access to professional care from CAPS’ team of psychologists and counselors.
And even if UCLA eventually approves CAPS’ application for funding, CAPS shouldn’t need to keep applying for SFAC funding. Unpredictable, periodic funding applications will not lead to a labor settlement or a better understanding of CAPS’ personnel turnover problem. Instead, the university must find a way to guarantee CAPS funding and provide adequate salaries.
Students who need mental health interventions shouldn’t have to search far and wide to find programs that suit their needs. Reaffirming CAPS’ status as a one-stop shop for mental health services on campus would help students have their needs met more easily. Ultimately, the university must allocate additional SFAC funding to the office in the short term and establish a framework for CAPS’ future success.
Although mental health services are an important facet of student well-being at UCLA, their importance is not reflected in the university’s funding priorities. Guaranteeing SFAC funding to CAPS will convert UCLA’s talk into action.