By The Editorial Board
Two student suicides at one school occurring in a two week period is an obvious tragedy and a cause for concern. The recent deaths of two Fordham Preparatory students have brought the need to evaluate mental illness in our own community into the forefront of university-wide conversations. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) statistics show that one in four adults have a diagnosable mental illness.
How can we ignore the prevalence of mental illness? Why do we continue to perpetuate the stigma surrounding mental health? What can be done?
We must question whether or not our community is equipped with effective resources to accommodate students seeking counseling and psychological services. We must question whether or not we are doing everything possible to eliminate the stigma of seeking help for mental health. It is our duty to ask these questions and to try and make sense of the senseless.
Suicide among America’s youth is not a new concept, but it is growing. According to the Center of Disease Control (CDC), close to 4,900 individuals between the ages of 15 and 24 committed suicide in 2013 compared to approximately 4,200 in 2005 — a near 16 percent increase. While adults aged 75 and older currently have the highest rate of suicide among all Americans, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States for all ages, according to the CDC. NIMH finds that seven in 100,000 youths ages 15 to 19 die by suicide each year. Each day in our nation there are an average of over 5,400 suicide attempts by young people grades seven to 12. Among high school and college students, anxiety and depression are the most common health diagnoses.
A similar trend of student suicides was observed at the end of last year in Silicon Valley, specifically in Palo Alto, California,. Two high schools in the area hold the highest 10-year suicides rates in America, between four and five times the national average. In 2009, over a span of nine months, three students from the same school committed suicide. sSnce then, it has happened another time. This phenomenon is referred to as a suicide cluster — multiple deaths in succession and close proximity. In the United States, there are about five clusters a year of three or more suicides.
These numbers are staggering and horrifying, and signal a need to increase the quality and quantity of these resources at schools around the nation. In the fall, compared to the same time period last year, Rose Hill experienced an approximately 12 percent increase in overall clinical utilization.
“This increase is likely determined by multiple factors, but certainly includes our collective efforts to normalize vulnerability, de-stigmatize help-seeking, and provide training to faculty, staff and student[s] on recognizing, supporting and referring students in mental-health distress,” said director of Counseling and Psychological Services Jeffrey Ng.
Fordham’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) staff has expanded significantly in recent years, yet it has very obvious limitations.
The website for CPS at Rose Hill lists our campus as having eight staff psychologists, including a director, an assistant director, four supervising psychologists and a staff consultant with a medical license. Rose Hill also has four clinical interns, five clinical externs and two psychiatric residents. In total 24 individuals staff the department at Rose Hill, a campus that handles a total of nearly 7,000 students. In 2010, USA Today reported that one in 10 college students seeks out counseling each year. This means that the Rose Hill CPS office potentially has an upwards of 700 students come through its doors.
If you think that 700 students and 24 individuals might result in a waiting list at the CPS office, you are correct. At the end of the fall semester, Rose Hill CPS had a wait list for individual counseling.
“The students on the waitlist were all evaluated, did not present with any high risk or urgent concerns, and were provided with alternative treatment options, such as group counseling and customized referrals for off campus providers,” said Ng.
It is hard enough for students to muster the courage to walk into CPS and admit they need to seek mental help. But to be told that resources are unavailable is crushing. It is easy for a high-risk student to hide his or her illness, as evident by the number of student suicides that occur each year, baffling friends and family members.
To address the waitlist, Ng said that the office increased the hours of the part-time clinical staff and hired an additional part-time staff psychologist. Currently, the Rose Hill office does not have a waiting list.
This improvement is encouraging, but it means that just barely enough resources exist for students to see a mental health counselor at Rose Hill. Barely enough is not enough.
Fordham administration, this is directed to you: ensuring adequate funding and resources for CPS should be a top priority at Fordham.
We cannot reiterate how important it is for CPS to be heavily funded. CPS saves students’ lives every day, in big ways and in small ways. We cannot cut corners when it comes to the lives and well-being of our students.
Broader implications exist with less tangible solutions. CPS offers 10 sessions at no cost before referring students to outside providers. These providers are financially inaccessible to students without insurance. Furthermore, most college students are on their parents’ insurance, which means that at the end of 10 sessions, they must alert their parents of their mental health struggles in order to continue seeking professional help. Try as we might to destigmatize mental health on campus, but some students may face family members who are far less accepting of mental health counseling.
Given the recent tragedies at Fordham Prep, the shocking statistics regarding the mental health of our nation’s youth and the recent difficulties CPS faced in providing mental health services, The Fordham Ram strongly believes that the Rose Hill community must become comfortable discussing mental health.
While the stigma surrounding mental health can seem insurmountable for those struggling in silence, the community’s open-mindedness and willingness to start dialogue is paramount to the success and well-being of all students on our campus and all members of society.
This editorial should serve as a call to action for administrators and students alike. Mental health is a serious issue that involves everyone and we can begin to tackle the stigma if we are willing to take further steps towards change.