Content warning: This article contains mention of suicide.
Since the start of the pandemic, local, national and global crises have contributed to a steady rise in community mental health issues. Increased funding and more accessible mental health resources provide solutions, and connect those suffering with quality care.
This academic year, UNC has an opportunity to take advantage of advancements in mental health care and better the University's existing support systems for students, faculty and community members.
A new suicide and crisis lifeline is currently available for community use, according to the UNC Counseling and Psychological Services website. The number — 988 — is only three digits, making it much easier to remember compared to its 10-digit predecessor: 800-273-8255.
Instead of police, dialing 988 will link the caller to a national network of local crisis centers. The goal of the number is to reduce calls to 911 for mental health crises, hopefully reducing law enforcement response during mental health emergencies, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. A lack of police training for mental health emergencies has resulted in two million people with mental health issues being jailed within the past year. Furthermore, SAMSHA reported that almost a quarter of fatal police shootings within the past year involve those with mental illnesses.
People of color are disproportionately impacted by police brutality. For instance, Black men are twice as likely to be killed by police as compared to their white counterparts, according to the Washington Post. Therefore, they are even more likely to be killed in violence stemming from mental health-related emergencies.
In addition to the new hotline number, federal financial support for mental health has increased. Instead of the previous $24 million allocated, the Biden administration has invested $432 million toward mental health services to support anticipated calls to 988. This money will support local and backup call centers as well as a subnetwork for Spanish speakers who use the hotline.
Funding for mental health resources has also been a topic of UNC community conversation.
UNC has historically struggled to meet the demand for quality mental health resources on campus. In recent semesters, waitlists for brief individual therapy sessions, insufficient funding and a lack of options for long-term mental health care have been ongoing problems associated with the University's CAPS program.
This past spring, students expressed concerns regarding UNC’s mental health resources, and a petition circled around the community calling for increased CAPS funding. In response, CAPS was confirmed to receive $81,667 in additional funding for the 2022 fiscal year, and $140,000 for the 2023 fiscal year.
Both UNC and the nation as a whole have worked to make mental health a priority. But to cultivate the best possible environment for student mental health, we must do more to continue these efforts locally. This includes pushing toward the goal of receiving of long-term mental health care services on campus, maintaining these increases in CAPS funding and spreading awareness of the mental health crises hotline.
Topical issues such as inflation, climate change, the continuing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine war and more permeate our daily lives. These highly impactful events inevitably create an atmosphere of pervasive stress and anxiety and negatively impacts our community's mental health. Challenges we will face in the coming year could even exasperate this.
These stressful events will not disappear any time soon and neither will the mental health problems that come alongside them. Community mental health resources are vital to well-being. 988 is a step in the right direction.
If you are seeking immediate or long-term mental health care, see the list of local and national resources compiled by the DTH Editorial Board.
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