For the last few years, a common concern of the student body has been the state of mental health services at Penn. Concerns have been brought to the administration multiple times about the consistently long wait times to make an appointment at CAPS and the necessity of increased funding for a service that can not only improve but also save lives.
In the past few months, the call for an improved mental health support system at Penn seems to have reached an all-time high.
It seems that the administration has responded at last. We were pleased to hear of CAPS’ recent changes, from adding three new temporary staffers to extending hours. We’re glad that the University has listened to the voices and needs of Penn’s student body — which has made it quite clear that mental health services at Penn have room for improvement — and provided the funding to make these changes possible.
However, we think that it’s fairly clear that this was a move spurred by the recent deaths in the student body. We’re glad that the University has responded to these events, but we hope that events as tragic as the ones that have transpired since winter break will not be necessary to convince the University to take action in the future and fund continued improvements.
While Penn ranks similarly to larger Ivy League universities like Harvard and Cornell in terms of the ratio of CAPS (or the equivalent at the given university) staff to student population, it certainly has room to improve. It lags leagues behind Columbia, for example, which has one staffer per 185 people. For comparison, Penn has approximately one staffer per 272 undergraduates.
The University should look for ways to continue improving mental health resources at Penn, from raising awareness about the services offered at CAPS to expansion of the services themselves. It should provide the funding necessary for CAPS to hire the three temporary staff members full time.
While the changes made by the University and CAPS last week are certainly steps forward, the University should aim to be more proactive than reactive when it comes to expanding its mental health support services in the coming months and years.