A spotlight on mental health

A photo of the Tranquada building with a sign reading "flu shots here."
Many 5C students are disappointed in the quality of mental health services on campus, especially Monsour Counseling and Psychological Services. (Meghan Joyce • The Student Life)

Content warning: student deaths

Daniel Molina PZ ’22 and Spencer Pletcher PZ ’22 called Monsour Counseling and Psychological Services March 4 and learned that the soonest the 5Cs’ joint mental health service could see them was one month later.

The Pitzer first-years, underwhelmed by the quality of mental health services on campus, had called to verify the long wait times they had heard about from their friends. The answer only increased their frustration.

5C students have long complained about what they perceive as a lack of support from the consortium for mental health, from long wait times at Monsour Counseling and Psychological Services to limited coverage of off-campus therapy co-pays. These concerns were brought to a head in February, when two Claremont McKenna College students were found dead in one week.

“Especially in the wake of a traumatic event, there should be more access than usual,” Molina said.

As a result, students have stepped up their demands for better administrative support with protests and a forum and created their own support spaces.

At a mental health meeting at Pomona College Wednesday, organized by Students for an Accountable Pomona — the same group that organized a March 11 rally calling for increased support — students voiced concerns and frustration to Pomona President G. Gabrielle Starr and Dean of Students Avis Hinkson about off-campus therapy, institutional support for first-generation, low-income students and a lack of diversity among Monsour therapists.

“Are we going to have to hold a protest and call for resignations every single time we need mental health support?” Daniel Garcia PO’21 said during the forum.

Starr said conversations about reforming Monsour were not prompted by the SAP rally, but actually began a year ago. She agreed with students that the college’s mental health resources are still insufficient, despite increased funding.

“When you’re in crisis, we want to be able to …  help you as best as we can in that crisis, and I don’t think we can say that we’ve done that well enough,” Starr said.

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Monsour grapples with staffing complaints

Monsour, the colleges’ primary mental health resource, has been criticized for years, as students have lambasted its long wait times and poor service. Monsour wait times recently reached four weeks but have decreased to two and a half weeks as of March 12 after hiring temporary staff, according to assistant director Fiona Vajk.

On March 8, in the wake of the two deaths, CMC Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students Dianna Graves emailed CMC students, acknowledging the three- to four-week wait time for appointments at Monsour and offering additional resources, including more than 20 additional hours of individual and group counseling and local counselors with drop-in hours.

Aetna, the health insurance provider for students using the Student Health Insurance Plan, offered its Employee Assistance Program — benefits normally given to Atena employees — to all students for 30 days in response to the deaths at CMC, Pomona’s Dean of Students Avis Hinkson said.

“The [EAP] website, as well as the services that are available, speak to the range of feelings that can really catch some folks off guard following an unexpected death. It highlights methods of self care and … gives [students] other resources,” Hinkson said.

The overwhelming consensus among students is that Monsour remains understaffed.

“When you’re in crisis, we want to be able to …  help you as best as we can in that crisis, and I don’t think we can say that we’ve done that well enough,” — Pomona College President G. Gabrielle Starr

Lilly Sterenberg PZ ’20 has been going to Monsour since her first year, and although she’s been happy with her experience, she thinks wait times could be shorter.

“But I don’t really see that as being Monsour’s fault,” she said. “They just don’t have enough money to hire more therapists right now.”

Others said Monsour’s need for additional resources is especially acute right now.

Giselle De la Torre Pinedo PO ’19, who’s been going to Monsour on and off since her junior year, said her experience has been poor.

She said her therapist did “not really give [her] a lot of support,” and said she received an incorrect diagnosis from another therapist.

De la Torre Pinedo suggested this could be remedied if Monsour was more hospitable and if they had “someone to validate our input.

“We fill out all the surveys all the time,” she said, referring to the feedback surveys sent out by Monsour to their patients. “I don’t know how many other people have had unwelcoming situations in Monsour that could be prevented [if they took action on the surveys].”

Co-pay coverage may vary

SHIP currently covers 80 percent of off-campus therapy costs, and some — but not all — 5Cs help with the remaining costs.

In February, Harvey Mudd College’s Student Philanthropy Campaign raised more than $12,000 to cover 600 therapy co-pays for students with insurance who cannot afford the $20 per session co-pay, according to an email sent out by the campaign.

Pomona plans to re-introduce an off-campus therapy system that would cover the 20 percent of costs not paid for by SHIP, plus the co-pay, totaling about $40 per session. It previously offered a similar program, but discontinued that in the fall.

Scripps College “will cover co-payments of up to $75 per session,” according to Associate Dean of Students Adriana di Bartolo.

Scripps also provides drop in hours during which students can receive a wellness assessment, Bartolo said.

CMC has “licensed therapists on campus who meet with students free of charge,” according to a statement from Graves.

CMC has a limited emergency fund that can be used to cover co-pays, the statement said, but did not mention if the college funds co-pays in non-emergency situations.

Pitzer College also has an emergency fund that students can apply for once a year of up to $200, Dean of Students Sandra Vasquez said via email. These requests can also be used to fund off-campus therapy for students facing financial hardship, she said.

Student take action, make demands

Following the official CMC vigil for the students who died, a 5C vigil was scheduled to be held at Pitzer and then canceled because the colleges were unable to “find counselors who could be present at the event,” according to an email sent out by 5C class presidents.

“At that point we all agreed that hosting a vigil without counselors present to support students would not be consistent with the intention of a healing space where we could properly support our fellow students,” Pitzer Student Senate President Shivani Kavuluru PZ’19 said via email.

Molina and Pletcher created a survey to help measure 5C mental health accessibility to “elevate student and faculty voices as well as show the administration how large of a problem the lack of proper mental health resources are,” Molina wrote in an email to Pitzer students.

The survey’s goal is to get a temporary read on student concerns. Molina and Pletcher hope to collect the data to create an survey approved by Pitzer’s Institutional Review Board, a panel which ensures the ethical treatment and privacy of participants in studies, to send out over student listservs. They said they have received encouragement and help from the Dean of Students offices at all 5Cs.

Ninety-four percent of the nearly 300 survey respondents said they don’t think “the colleges have sufficient mental health resources on campus that are reasonably accessible.”

In an email to students, Molina wrote that “it has become apparent that 5C admin are not taking action so the duty has fallen onto us, the students, to demand action NOW.”

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