5C Students Question Quality of Mental Health Resources

Recent student protests at Harvey Mudd College and the Resident Advisors’ strike at Scripps College have highlighted student concerns about the mental health resources available at the 5Cs. In interviews with TSL, students expressed concerns about scheduling, appointment wait times, and counselors’ expertise, which may impede students from seeking or receiving mental health care.

While each of the colleges have campus-specific mental health resources, Monsour Counseling and Psychological Services (MCAPS) serves as the primary resource for the 5Cs. Between the beginning of the 2016-17 academic year and April 10, students scheduled 7,579 appointments at Monsour, according to Claremont University Consortium Vice President for Student Affairs Denise Hayes — an 11 percent increase from last year.

One primary issue that both students and administrators have identified with Monsour is that it cannot always accommodate students in a timely manner.

The average wait time for an appointment at Monsour this year was 6.1 days, with a maximum wait time of 14 days, Hayes wrote in an email to TSL. However, students report significantly longer wait times.

“It was not very easy for me to get an appointment with a therapist; I had to wait 3 weeks for my first appointment, which I found unacceptable,” an anonymous student who sought an appointment this academic year wrote in a message to TSL. A different student reported waiting more than a month.

The counseling service has been working to decrease appointment wait times by adding therapists and increasing hours, according to Monsour Director Gary DeGroot.

“MCAPS has continued to expand the availability of services over the past two years," DeGroot wrote in an email to TSL. "Recent budget increases allowed us to add more therapists and provide appointments on Tuesdays and Thursdays evenings. We’ve also increased psychiatric hours from 24 hours/week to 40 hours/week."

Monsour also has emergency walk-in appointments for students needing emergency help during Monsour’s operating hours, according to DeGroot.

Students worry about the quality of care that Monsour provides.

“I don't really like the therapist I was given. She did give me a few helpful tips, but overall I still feel uncomfortable talking to her,” the first anonymous student wrote.

Another student agreed.

“I got the feeling I wasn't supposed to be there — that since the therapist had judged I wasn't an immediate threat to myself, she was wasting her time with me,” the student wrote in a message to TSL. “Upon trying to schedule another appointment, the therapist made it clear that she didn't think Monsour was the right place for me. This feeling kept me from returning, even when I really needed help.”

DeGroot responded to such concerns by highlighting Monsour counselors’ credentials and training.

“Our therapists and psychiatrists are all from accredited institutions and are well-trained with diverse backgrounds and skills," he wrote. "The therapists are licensed in the state of California or are working toward their license. They have all had previous experience in college mental health. More importantly, they are all in this position because they genuinely want to help our students."

DeGroot also believes students should try different counselors if they are unsatisfied with their initial experiences at Monsour.

“Finding a counselor that you feel comfortable with may take time. Students are able to change counselors if they don’t feel comfortable with someone,” he wrote.

Some students do not believe that changing counselors is a viable option.

“I don't want to change to another therapist ... since it took so long to schedule an appointment with the first one,” the first anonymous student wrote. “There should be an easier process for switching therapists/psychiatrists within Monsour if you don't like the first one you get.”

Despite concerns, many students are happy with the care they have received at Monsour.

“I have been lucky enough to have a truly wonderful therapist,” the second anonymous student wrote in a message to TSL. “I could not ask for a better and more self-aware therapist. … He genuinely cares and tries to be as helpful as he can/as he knows how.”

Monsour can also be more accessible for students than other alternatives.

“I think it's really important for the 5Cs to have this mental health resource because even with its flaws, I still feel like it's much more accessible for many students than independent off-campus therapists because of issues related to transportation and health insurance,” an anonymous Scripps first-year wrote in a message to TSL.

Beyond these issues, some students are hesitant to visit Monsour because of stigmas surrounding mental health and treatment.

“I did feel stigma going to Monsour, and I definitely kept it to myself that I went,” the third anonymous student wrote.

Other students find that this stigma makes scheduling appointments difficult.

“For me and many others it’s difficult to make an appointment over the phone when regarding mental health [due to stigma about mental health in this society],” the second anonymous student wrote.

DeGroot acknowledged this stigma, but praised efforts by the colleges to combat it.

“I believe the college community has worked hard and successfully to aid in the reduction of stigma attached to mental health issues at the 7Cs,” DeGroot wrote. “Conversations to eliminate inaccurate stereotypes and misconceptions are crucial. It also helps when the college community supports and encourages students to seek help.”

Monsour’s reputation among students can sometimes discourage students from visiting.

“I was discouraged from scheduling appointments there just because I'd heard bad things about it,” the first anonymous student wrote.

In general, students agree that Monsour needs to increase the size of its staff so that it can better and more efficiently serve students. Even students like the Scripps first-year, who are satisfied and happy with their counselors, agree that Monsour is under-resourced and understaffed.

“I think the biggest hurdle for Monsour right now is keeping up with the growing demand. Hiring new staff inevitably takes time, and Monsour is limited by how much money they're allocated and how much space they have,” the Scripps first-year wrote in a message to TSL. “At times [my therapist and psychiatrist] both forgot fairly straightforward facts about me just because they see so many different clients.”

Other students believe Monsour should alter the eight-session limit placed on students.

“I think Monsour and the colleges should work to allow more flexibility within Monsour and the way the counseling program is structured,” a fifth anonymous student wrote in a message to TSL.

In addition to various college-specific initiatives, each school has joined the JED Foundation, which provides a model for colleges to evaluate gaps in mental health care, as well as resources and guidance, according to Claremont McKenna College Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Sharon Basso.

DeGroot wrote that the colleges “should continue their efforts to be observant and aware of warning signs and/or signs of distress” and “know where to refer those students and continue to see mental health as a campus whole effort as is being done with the JED Foundation model.”

Monsour is also working to improve itself.

“We are always seeking to better serve our students," Hayes wrote. "The best way for us to determine needs and areas of improvement is through feedback, recommendations and suggestions. This can be done via our website at www.cuc.claremont.edu/monsour."