Editor's Note: This article contains mentions of suicide.
On February 11, N.C. State University confirmed and began mourning its fifth suicide of of the academic school year. The grieving process was not unlike that faced by UNC students in fall 2021, a semester in which our campus grappled with four suicides.
Despite UNC and NCSU being the two of the largest public universities in the UNC System, they both face serious challenges combatting mental health crises on campus.
Last month, NCSU's Student Mental Health Task Force released a report that found even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, 34 percent of students surveyed grappled with some form of depression. Meanwhile, 12 percent responded that they had experienced suicidal ideation within the last year.
With the pandemic causing a 27.6 percent increase in cases of major depressive disorders worldwide, it's not a far leap to assume that these numbers have increased for college students, too.
Despite the fact that college students are continuing to be the victims of a mental health crisis, our universities are failing to properly prioritize and recognize the necessary solutions. It is their duty to provide students with the programs and resources needed to battle the life-threatening reality of today's mental health crisis.
It's not as though nothing has been done about this issue – several UNC System universities have taken initiatives to address suicides and mental health degradation. UNC-CH, as a result of a recommendation by the University’s mental health task force, created a 24-hour hotline that allows students in crisis to access mental health professionals.
However, despite its noble intentions, students report facing half-hour wait times to get in contact with someone through this hotline. Although this seems like a short wait on paper, for someone in crisis, this time can be the difference between getting help and a crisis escalating.
Additionally, UNC-CH’s Counseling and Psychological Services provide primarily short term counseling for all fee-paying students that is critical to providing professional help to those that need it. In prior semesters, the wait times for booking appointments have posed a barrier to students who reach out for help.
NCSU's Counseling services faced a similar problem with a disastrous wait time of up to two months, WRAL reported. Such a wait severely limits the effects of this essential crisis tool.
More recently, we have started shifting the needle towards progress.
NCSU and UNC-CH have recently partnered with telehealth therapy services to provide students with free sessions – an improvement for both universities to mitigate their limited on-campus counseling services.
University students in North Carolina need to be met where they are. The status quo should not be one that is reactive: it needs to be proactive.
Following the advice of the Student Mental Health Task Force of NCSU, the UNC System needs to consider universal mental health screenings to lookout for students who are struggling and are not reaching out for help. We need to create a culture where mental health is prioritized as much as any biological necessity, such as food or water.
The Alert Carolinas and Wolf Alerts of the losses of our struggling friends on campus should not be accepted as just another part of being in college. Students face a world of worries that need to be prioritized. It's time to reevaluate mental health care within the UNC System and address the mental health crisis plaguing students across the state.
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