Sunday, December 9

Editorial: Mental health service ‘fast lanes’ won’t solve problems CAPS’ understaffing created


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An opaque counseling center is the last thing you would want from a university with a distinct lack of mental health resources.

Turns out, that’s precisely what UCLA has.

The Daily Bruin reported Nov. 16 Counseling and Psychological Services had partnered with the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science to offer additional mental health services to engineering students. Specifically, the school of engineering is providing some funding for a program that allows engineering students to attend twice-weekly drop-in counseling sessions.

Providing engineering students with greater access to care may certainly be appropriate from a policy standpoint. But we can’t forget: CAPS is short-staffed, lacks space and doesn’t have the resources to adequately provide for a student body of over 45,000.

In other words, the center’s partnership with the school of engineering effectively prioritizes requests from engineering students and creates “fast lanes” for access to specialized care.

That’s a policy CAPS hasn’t bothered to tell the student body about.

If CAPS wants to offer specialized mental health services, it has an obligation to divulge which groups of students have access to these resources and why they require them. The same goes for any initiative to contract CAPS’ services by allowing individual academic departments to foot the bill.

Clearly engineering students need greater access to mental health services than is currently available to them. A former UCLA engineering doctoral student killed himself and a professor in a murder-suicide in June 2016. And in October 2016, a 20-year-old student died by suicide after falling from the roof of Boelter Hall.

Nicole Green, CAPS’ executive director, pointed to these very incidents when explaining why the school of engineering sought a partnership with the center. And it’s hard to find fault with engineering students having access to CAPS’ resources in light of the school’s troubled history with mental health.

The problem is with how the university granted this access.

Green told The Bruin in September the solution to UCLA’s dearth of mental health resources wasn’t to create specialized lanes to prioritize access to care for any specific group of students. In fact, she compared the act to adding more lanes on the I-405 highway, a process that only increases traffic woes. Yet Green seems to have flatly contradicted that contention in describing the new mental health services offered specifically for engineering students.

[Podcast: In the Know: UCLA’s Counseling Crisis]

Basic norms of transparency dictate the university should be forthright whenever it decides to implement such a major policy change. In addition, such norms also suggest the university should act transparently if it moves to contract out mental health services on a greater scale.

Even if CAPS’ partnership with the school of engineering is a one-time incident, it’s naive to think other campus entities won’t now seek out ways to have the center cater to their respective students. Such a policy of partnership with other campus departments may very well improve care. But the efficacy of such initiatives cannot be assessed if UCLA keeps its students and their associated campus departments in the dark – especially when those very students are funding CAPS’ operations.

Solving UCLA’s mental health woes requires enacting nontraditional initiatives that offer meaningful services to students.

Those solutions may lack extensive institutional support. But they shouldn’t be lacking in transparency.

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