UC Berkeley’s mental health pandemic cannot be overlooked

CAMPUS AFFAIRS: Administration must create measures to support UC Berkeley community’s mental health, on campus and off

Illustration of an overwhelmed student surrounded by their pressing worries, fears, and thoughts of their responsibilities.
Jericho Tang/Staff

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Everyone is struggling.

A survey by the Student Experience in the Research University Consortium, which includes UC Berkeley, reported higher levels of depression and anxiety among all students. Of the undergraduates surveyed, 35% screened positive for depression, while 39% screened positive for anxiety; a disproportionately large number of minority, queer and low-income students were in these groups.

Quarantine-related difficulties were strikingly linked to mental health issues — more than half of students who struggled with remote learning screened positive for one or both of these disorders. And with a fully online semester looming, these worries will only worsen. 

Although this survey was meant to inform universities on how to shape their mental health policies, campus administration has not adequately acted. Now more than ever, amid a pandemic, hundreds of wildfires, limited socialization, personal responsibilities and now schoolwork, we desperately need support. We are all overstressed, not just students but also professors, teaching assistants, faculty, staff, administration and the entire campus community.

Alongside the coronavirus, a second, silent pandemic of mental health harms has stomped on student wellness. University Health Services has mobilized to combat the coronavirus, but the related mental health pandemic must also be addressed with full force. 

Counseling and Psychological Services, or CAPS, must be revamped to further support those who need its services. The bureaucracy surrounding access to free counseling sessions is complex — it may even deter students from seeking help. CAPS lifting its cap on free counseling sessions shows improvement, but a student in crisis cannot be forced to jump through hoops. 

CAPS’s resources must be expanded, not only so that it can reach more students and improve accessibility, but also so that everyone can receive counseling from professionals within their communities who truly understand their perspectives. 

Moreover, campus must broadcast its available services more widely and more effectively. Mental health-related email blasts will at least draw attention to available resources and chip away at UC Berkeley’s unhealthy mental health culture and stigma. Further describing how students can access off-campus resources and effective free services is equally essential — campus can’t do it all. 

In terms of academics, extending the pass/no pass and drop deadlines for this semester is just as crucial as it was in spring 2020. Pushing back deadlines will provide students greater flexibility and, hopefully, decrease the number of questions and concerns they field instructors, who are already intimidated by the task of running a virtual semester. 

This is a chaotic time, and we all must practice empathy. Instructors, be understanding of students and flexible with deadlines. Students, be understanding of your instructors (they’re overwhelmed too). And administration, understand that focusing on the health, both physical and mental, of your students is vital — no one can do it alone.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the fall 2020 opinion editor, Katherine Shok.