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Mental Health Care Shrinks as Princeton University Expands


Sep 20, 2023

Students at Princeton often discuss the need for prioritizing mental health care, but what they may not realize is that it is currently an almost impossible task. The demand for counseling and therapy far exceeds the number of staff available to students, making mental health care ineffective. The 2022 Senior Survey revealed that just under 60 percent of respondents have received mental health counseling or therapy, and a staggering 75 percent have considered it. However, Princeton’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) only has a staff of 27 social workers, psychologists, and counselors, which is inadequate for a student body of over 8,000. With one clinician for every 330 students, the current situation is unsustainable.

Furthermore, Princeton University’s student population continues to grow, with class sizes increasing and expected to keep rising. This means that the ratio of students to clinicians will only worsen, potentially leaving just one clinician for every 154 undergraduates who are considering mental health care. Even when considering graduate students, the ratio becomes one clinician for every 244 students. These numbers clearly demonstrate the urgent need for a substantial increase in counseling staff to address the mental health care needs of Princeton students.

The implications of the staffing shortages at CPS are significant, particularly when it comes to emergency mental health care treatment. Students may have to wait several days for an initial 20-minute consultation and about a week for subsequent visits. However, mental illness can quickly escalate, and delays in treatment can have severe consequences. Additionally, students are discouraged from utilizing CPS for long-term care, as they are limited to a maximum of six in-office clinician appointments. After reaching this limit, students are referred to local therapists and must cover the costs themselves, even if they have health insurance. This system is not equitable and denies students the prompt access to counseling and treatment they deserve.

Expanding the CPS staff can help alleviate these issues. Currently, there is an emergency fund in place, but it is limited and may not cover long-term care. The most affordable long-term therapy through the university health plan requires a copay of $20 per session, and the emergency fund provides only $300 in aid per year. This, coupled with the evidence showing the benefits of weekly therapy sessions, puts a financial burden on students, particularly those from low-income backgrounds. The university must address this issue and prioritize affordable mental health care.

Increasing the number of CPS staff is the clear solution to these problems. However, it is crucial that this expansion also focuses on diversity. Currently, the majority of CPS clinicians are white, which fails to reflect the increasingly diverse student population at Princeton. People of color (POC) face unique challenges in mental health and subsequent treatment, and research shows that POC patients often have better outcomes when treated by POC clinicians. Thus, to properly serve POC students, CPS staff must not only grow in number but also become more diverse.

While the university has made efforts to provide mental health care through initiatives like the CPS Cares Line, these measures are not sufficient in addressing the growing demand for treatment. Many students find it more beneficial to have face-to-face counseling sessions during difficult times rather than relying solely on digital communication. Therefore, reducing wait times for initial mental health consultations, making long-term care economically viable, and increasing the diversity of CPS staff should be top priorities for the university.

Expanding the CPS staff would be a positive step towards achieving these goals. It is crucial for Princeton to recognize the urgency and importance of providing accessible and effective mental health care to its students. By investing in adequate staffing and diverse representation at CPS, the university can better support the well-being and academic success of its student body.

By Editor

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