Editorial Board: Monsour Indispensable, But Needs Improvement

If you haven’t yet read this week’s investigation into the Claremont Colleges’ mental health services by Julia Comnes and Kevin Tidmarsh, turn to page 2 in the News section. Before we make any suggestions, we’d like to thank the individuals who were willing to publicly discuss their experiences for this week’s issue. We know that mental health is a sensitive topic, and we want to recognize the courage it can take to speak out.

Let’s begin with some numbers. Monsour Counseling and Psychological Services, the on-campus resource for mental health support, currently employs 12 mental health professionals to serve a community of around 6,300 students. Last year, 1,127 of those students visited Monsour, and more may have been deterred by the average two-week wait time. Successful psychotherapy requires time, patience, and deep individual attention—and, as John Montesi argues in his Opinions piece (right), must begin as soon as students seek help. Based on the stories we’ve heard from students who have visited Monsour, we do not think the staff at its current size is capable of handling all the mental health needs of the community.

But in fairness, that’s partially expected. Mental health is a deeply individualized experience, and finding a mental health professional is often a more lengthy and experimental process than finding a doctor or dentist. Even if Monsour were to double its staff, we doubt that every student would feel comfortable there. That’s part of the reason Monsour bills itself as a source for referrals to outside practitioners. Unfortunately, students are reporting that the center is failing in this critical function.

Because of its limited size and scope, Monsour must be equipped to provide meaningful referrals quickly. Based on what we’ve heard from students, the current referral process is nonspecific, unhelpful, and sometimes delayed. We believe a full-time employee to connect students with the off-campus mental health resources that best suit their individual needs and to assist them in sorting through insurance coverage would be a valuable addition to Monsour’s staff. If a new staff member is not an option, Monsour must at least re-evaluate its referral process.

And although we’ve turned our focus to referrals, an evaluation of quality may be necessary for all of Monsour’s services. We’ve heard unsettling stories of student complaints not being taken seriously. It’s worth noting that only seven of Monsour’s 12 mental health professionals are licensed clinical psychologists, and—while we are sure the post-doctoral fellows and doctoral student interns who work there provide valuable support—we aren’t certain that seven licensed psychologists is enough.

We also urge students to keep their full range of options in mind when considering their own mental health. Despite its shortcomings, Monsour remains the most obvious and well-equipped source of support on campus, but help and support can come from all around. In her Opinions piece (above), Dulce Cabrales-Cid describes the strength she found in many community members, including her sponsor, a professor, and an associate dean. Family, friends, team members, and faculty and staff members can all be components of a support network.

Still, informal support is not a substitute for professional aid, and we need Monsour to step up in the latter role. We’ve suggested some improvements, but these are based only on the anecdotal evidence available so far. We would welcome a frank discussion between student groups, college administrators, and the staff of Monsour and the Claremont University Consortium. We would also welcome the publication of Monsour’s budget, currently unavailable, to better inform that discussion. We have no reason to doubt the testimonies of the students who have made their dissatisfaction clear, but we also know that the staff at Monsour are dedicated to providing quality support, and that our community can—and must—cooperate to address these pressing problems.