Student Association

SA forms committee to improve mental health services

Frankie Prijatel | Senior Staff Photographer

Syracuse University students seeking mental health support from the counseling center have fewer counselors available than at other peer institutions, a Student Association committee report on mental health found.

Syracuse University students seeking mental health support from the counseling center have fewer counselors available than at other peer institutions, according to a report developed by a Student Association committee investigating the state of mental health on campus.

SU has a 1:1,282 counselor to student ratio, according to the report, which gives a suggested ratio of one counselor for every 1,000 students. In comparison, Cornell University has one counselor for every 830 students and Georgetown University has one counselor for every 1,086 students, according to the Mental Health Action Committee’s report.

The committee used different resources to gather information for their report, comparing national findings from the Center of Collegiate Mental Health with findings from SU. The committee also used the data from the SU Counseling Center and from the university’s climate assessment survey, which was open to students from Feb. 9 to March 28, 2016.

The committee aims to develop a campus-wide strategy to address mental health concerns.

Nate Birnbaum, a senior policy studies major and one of eight students in the group, said the committee sought perspectives from both SA and non-SA students for the report. The committee’s three major goals, he said, were to give “an accurate and comprehensive portrait of mental health resources on campus,” clear up misinformation surrounding mental health on campus and develop feasible and impactful policy recommendations that SA can help implement.

A key finding from the report was that mental health issues were among the top factors for undergraduate students wanting to leave SU, with 68.6 percent of the students who answered the question listing a “lack of a sense of belonging” for being the reason they wanted to leave.

Increasing awareness about mental health on campus has been one of the lead initiatives for SA under President Eric Evangelista and Vice President Joyce LaLonde.

LaLonde led efforts to create the first mental health awareness week from Oct. 2 to 8 last year. One event that week was “Syracuse Setbacks,” a discussion between SU faculty, administrators and staff on their mental health setbacks and how they persevered.

With the data collected, the Mental Health Action Committee stated in its report that there are short-term and long-term initiatives regarding mental health that can be acted on by the university. These include changes to the SU counseling center to improve mental health services and to hire more counselors to better serve the campus community.

This report was not easy to form because of the complexity of the issue, but it is something that the members of the committee are passionate about, Birnbaum said.

“Mental health is a difficult topic that doesn’t get enough attention on campus,” he added.

Birnbaum said it was particularly important to him that the committee was composed of both SA and non-SA members, offering an opportunity for students to contribute that are involved in other campus organizations.

While the majority of the report has been finalized, there’s still more work that LaLonde said she believes needs to be added. During the 2017 Atlantic Coast Conference Student Leadership Symposium at Wake Forest University, LaLonde spoke with fellow institutions about what they are doing on campus in regard to mental health and plans on including that in the report, she said.

Once the committee’s report is finalized, it will be shared with SU administrators, university officials and student groups, Birnbaum said.

“We hope that from these presentations we can begin to work with the university on implementing our policy recommendations,” Birnbaum said.

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