NYC lawmakers look to boost mental health care for CUNY students

Commuter receives free vaccination for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at subway station in Brooklyn borough of New York City
FILE PHOTO: A commuter receives a shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) during the opening of MTA’s public vaccination program at a subway station in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, New York, U.S., May 12, 2021. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic in New York, the ongoing global health crisis’ impact on mental health remains fresh on everybody’s minds. 

One bill, sponsored by Brooklyn state Senator Andrew Gounardes and Manhattan Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, aims to help meet the demand for mental health care providers throughout the CUNY system by lowering the mental health staff to student ratio from 1 to 1,000. 

Currently, there is one mental health care provider per 2,595 students across the city’s public four-year and two-year college network. Jayvon, a senior at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who did not wish to give his last name, has been personally impacted by the large CUNY student to mental health care provider ratio. The weight of the pandemic along with the struggles and stressors that come with online learning caused Jayvon’s anxiety and depression to worsen last summer. In October, Jayvon tried to set up an appointment with a mental health counselor at John Jay, a CUNY school, but gave up trying to connect with a mental health provider after waiting months for a call back from student health services. 

“I don’t know if they were ignoring my calls or my emails but they just could not find a counselor to help me out,” said Jayvon. “We have a huge population of students and we should want to ensure that our students dealing with mental health issues are looked and helped before their crises get any worse.”

The bill was initially part of a bundle of new legislation, dubbed “A New Deal for CUNY,” which sought to make the public college system free for qualifying students, increase on-campus mental health care providers and lowering the full-time faculty and student ratio across campuses as well as adjusting pay for adjunct faculty and staff members. 

Now, Gounardes’ focus is on addressing access to mental health due to student demand. According to a recent study, over half of CUNY students reported increased anxiety and depression and half said they needing more mental health care services due to the pandemic.

More than 80% of students said the study that they suffered a loss of household income during the pandemic, and almost 50% said they worried about losing housing. 

“Especially in light of the year that everyone had, having appropriate mental health care for students on campus is really, really critical,” Gounardes told amNewYork Metro. In order to create a mental health care provider to student ratio of 1 per 1,o00, CUNY would need to add 125 mental health care counseling positions, according to the Professional Staff Congress, a union representing CUNY faculty and staff. Those additional positions would cost the system somewhere around $10 million, says Gounardes. 

“Between the increase in state aid in the budget this year and the significant allotment of federal aid … there is no reason that there should not be a prioritization to make sure that CUNY is providing adequate mental health care on campus,” said the senator. 

With one week left in the state legislative session, Senator Gounardes, the bill’s prime sponsor, and advocates are taking part in “an all-out push” to try to get the bill passed in both the state Assembly and Senate this year. 

This article was updated on June 3, 2021 at 5:35 p.m. 


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