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Editorial: UCLA abandons investment in mental health care, leaves students to struggle alone

By Editorial Board

January 21, 2019 10:27 pm

When students are welcomed to UCLA during orientation, they’re told to save the phone number for the university’s Counseling and Psychological Services center in case of emergencies. They’re reminded we need to continue destigmatizing mental illnesses. They’re reassured the university has trained counselors who can tend to their needs.

What they aren’t told is limited resources means they can receive as few as three appointments per year. They’re not told wait times for those appointments can be nearly a month.

They’re not told UCLA has forsaken mental health care.

The Daily Bruin reported earlier this month that Acacia Counseling and Wellness, a private counseling service, is opening shop in Westwood Village. Acacia has set up five locations near universities, partnering with on-campus mental health services to mitigate high student demand for treatment. The company originated in Isla Vista, on the outskirts of UC Santa Barbara, and said it has partnered with UCLA to help the student body.

This service is bound to do good for this campus, which has been starved of a reliable yet nearby venue for mental health treatment.

But this story isn’t about a company swooping in to do good for a majority-student neighborhood. It’s about a wealthy university neglecting its community’s mental health needs and banking on good Samaritans from the general population to do the heavy lifting.

Over the years, despite an influx of student fees – assessed by both the UC Board of Regents and students themselves via the #UCLAWellness referendum – CAPS has steadily scaled back the number of appointments students can book per year, citing a lack of staff and space. The center sought in 2016 to employ student-run, peer-counseling groups to reserve its resources for only the most serious cases.

Two years later, Nicole Green, CAPS’ executive director, told The Bruin the service was only meant to offer short-term mental health care, and it would be directing students with UC-provided health insurance with more serious conditions to off-campus organizations, such as UCLA Neuropsychiatric Behavioral Health Services and Anthem Blue Cross insurance.

Green also said CAPS would not outsource its services to campus departments whose students may need care. Yet CAPS began offering the center’s limited resources to the School of Engineering for drop-in counseling.

CAPS is now geared to partner with Acacia to help it handle its immense demand. And while that offers relief for students, we have to ask: If the university is relying on a private company to offer mental health services – services this university seems wholly incapable of offering – why even bother having a campus psychological center?

The partnership with Acacia underscores not just how undecided UCLA is about its mental health resources but also how uncommitted it is to addressing this campus’s mental health needs. That the university would resort to depending on a private company to serve its own student body, despite collecting millions in student fee money, raising billions in donor money and creating grandiose campus initiatives to cure depression, speaks volumes of administrators’ dedication to mental health.

Yes, serving a campus of more than 45,000 students does mean administrators have to make certain compromises. But when UCLA grandstands about its commitment to treating those with mental health needs, it only fuels a system in which those needing care don’t seek it.

It comes down to intentionality: whether university leaders truly believe mental health is a cause worth investing in.

For now, it’s apparent administrators are just fine patting themselves on the back for operating a paltry excuse of a mental health facility.

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