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The Daily Tar Heel

Editorial: UNC students need better mental health resources

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Illustration by John Galapon.

We are struggling. It is hard to take online classes, to be apart from in-person teaching, books and learning resources. It is so challenging to manage adulting by ourselves, with a socially-distanced support network. And yes, although it is extremely mandatory and scientifically proven as one of the most effective COVID-19 exposure prevention methods, it gets tiring at times to wear a mask everywhere we go.

Smiles are fading, brows are furrowed, pencils are tapping, deadlines are hitting — and students are stressed. We can’t be left behind. 

In all the bureaucracy and money-hoarding strategies implemented by our University and its shabby, last-minute shift to remote learning, the capacity of students to adopt the additional responsibilities posed by online classes, a shortened semester and a bottleneck of assignments has dwindled. 

On top of this, we are anxious about grades and stressed about a flimsy "low pass" qualification that may penalize even the hardest workers. 

So, what role does Counseling and Psychological Services play in supporting overwhelmed students in such a taut environment?

Resources provided by CAPS — free counseling, guidance and referrals — have been maintained in a remote setting, of course. The website is still running, with access to additional support links and information about provided services. 

But first-years new to campus operations, international students taking courses abroad and even those with limited access to mental health resources would have to stretch themselves a long way to navigate the resources provided to them. 

CAPS needs to adopt more effective and visible ways of advocating for students on campus. Just as the University once used Alert Carolina to send notifications regarding COVID clusters, so too should it find a more transparent way to promote a resource for students to understand and cope with the mental toll inflicted by UNC’s last-minute decision to move all academic operations online and shut down campus housing.

CAPS is understaffed and underfunded, and its referral system is not sufficient. Students without access to constant transportation or health care funding should not be left to sift through a website in order to find psychological help somewhere else. 

They should find it here at UNC, among a staff of professionals equipped with knowledge regarding both the general needs of students as well as the spectrum of mental health issues — traumas, anxiety, depression, mood and attention disorders, among so many others — that might have been exacerbated by the online switch. 

CAPS should also provide a staff composed of greater diversities, so that a larger proportion of students might feel safe to connect with professionals who represent wider backgrounds to empathize with students' needs.

UNC should allocate greater funding for CAPS — maybe it could start by cutting six-figure salaries, or with the unchanged tuition it’s collected from in-state and out-of-state students in such a non-traditional semester. 

We need more present mental health services at UNC. We need them to be more active in students’ lives, especially during a global pandemic. People are getting sick, distant and even dying. Our lives are changing, and we can’t even track how. 

Mental health support and resources should be so close we can smell them. 

@dthopinion | opinion@dailytarheel.com

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