Budget cuts cause a shift in the mental health services at SMC
By Kiera O’Hara-Heinz
After almost a year and a half of primarily online classes, September marked Saint Mary’s return to in-person instruction. Despite being celebrated by some as a mark of “returning to normal,” the return to campus has brought upon new mental health challenges for some SMC students. Students seeking mental health services on campus may find that their offerings have changed since last year. Due to budget cuts brought on by the pandemic, CAPS was forced to decrease the number of appointments offered to students. Founded this year, the Mental Health club aims to fill this void.
According to Cynthia Cutshall, the Associate Director of Clinical Services and Operations and Outreach Coordinator at SMC’s Counseling and Psychological Services, the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted students' mental health and caused some students to seek services who hadn’t previously sought them.
“During the pandemic, students who were already struggling with mental health issues noticed an increase in their symptoms,” Cutshall said. “The folks who had never, you know, struggled with mental health stuff before were noticing some symptoms. And that's just been the broader context in which we're operating.”
This trend has been examined on a greater level, with many researchers interested in the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health. A CDC study conducted in July 2020, found that 40.9% of the 5,470 respondents surveyed reported adverse behavioral or mental health as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with 30.9% of respondents reporting symptoms of anxiety and depression. The prevalence of anxiety symptoms was three times higher than it was in a similar study conducted before the pandemic in 2019, and the prevalence of depression symptoms was four times higher.
Cutshall says that with the return to campus, many students have reported that although it feels good to be back in person, they are also feeling very overwhelmed.
Christina Giosso, the Public Relations Officer of Mental Health Club, believes that there is an increased need for mental health services on campus with the return of students to campus.
“The past two semesters everyone was online, either zooming from home or from their dorms, which was completely isolating,” Giosso said. “I think there has been a large adjustment with the transition from online to in-person, not only academically, but socially as well.”
Natalie Totah, the President of the Mental Health Club, agrees and cites the transition back into in-person learning, and the large adjustment first and second-year students may be facing being on campus for the first time this year, as reasons for an increase in the demand in mental health services.
Despite this perceived increase in demand, Cutshall says that the demand for services that CAPS is facing is quite average.
“I just ran the numbers last week, we're pretty comparable to what we were two years ago during the last sort of normal non-pandemic year. So we've seen a similar number of students compared to 2019,” Cutshall said.
Cutshall says that budget issues caused by the pandemic led to college-wide staffing cuts. She says that these staffing cuts have caused CAPS to reduce their session limit from ten sessions a year, to eight sessions, in order to meet the needs of the student population.
“So last year we offered 10 sessions, and before the pandemic, it was 12. We had some significant staffing cuts,” Cutshall said. “We've had to reduce our session limit in order to meet the needs of all the students who need these services.”
The exact figures of these budget cuts are not publicly available information. When contacted to comment on the issue, Susan Collins, the Vice President for Finance and Administration, said that as a matter of policy, Saint Mary’s does not provide information about specific departments’ budgets.
Cutshall emphasizes the importance of supporting the mental health needs of students during what she describes as a particularly difficult time. She hopes that once the college finds itself on firmer financial footing, CAPS will be able to refill the vacant positions.
According to Totah, although the budget cuts faced by CAPS were unavoidable, they have a detrimental effect on the student body. “I have heard comments around campus before the pandemic surrounding the lack of supply with high demand at CAPS, so I cannot imagine her students might be struggling with this major change,” Totah said.
Giosso echoed a similar point. “Already students have a hard time with scheduling appointments and it can take a lot of courage to do so,” Giosso said. They should feel supported and know that these services are there for them.” Giosso also notes that other mental health services are often expensive and can be inaccessible for many individuals.
The reduction in sessions offered by CAPS has motivated Totah to promote the Mental Health Club’s mission of supporting students. “This major change gives me more motivation and drives to expand our club on campus,” Totah said. “To give students an alternative if they are not able to secure a regular appointment schedule or an appointment at all at CAPS.”
Madison Sciba '24,