Section: Opinion

College has duty to provide timely mental health care

On Monday, a junior at the University of Pennsylvania named Ao “Olivia” Kong committed suicide — the 10th Penn student within the last three years to do so.

This rash of suicides only highlights the challenge of sustaining a college community’s mental health at a safe level. College is often a stressful time, and the pressure to excel before entering a competitive job market can make every academic assessment feel extra weighty.

The events at Penn should reinforce the College’s responsibility to guarantee its students the resources they need to maintain a stable level of mental health. This must be a top priority for administrators in charge of student life. Measures to this effect could include:

1) Ensuring students are able to get an appointment with a psychiatrist more than a few weeks in advance. Currently, some students calling to schedule such an appointment are told they must wait until late April or May, making them unable to get the care they want, and often need, from a specialized mental health practitioner. The Health Center can, fortunately, prescribe some medications.

2) Increasing and prioritizing monetary and personnel resources allocated to the Cox Health and Counseling Center. 

3) Educating the community about resources and behavioral practices to assist with mental health issues from the moment new students and faculty set foot on campus.

Fellow students are generally the first to learn when someone is in crisis. The community must support the Peer Counselors, who not only provide accessible counseling, but also valuable educational programming. The Sexual Misconduct Advisors (SMAs) and Community Advisors (CAs) also do critical work to support mental health initiatives on campus.

The College must acknowledge the gravity of the work these organizations do to keep the community healthy and support students both inside and outside the classroom. Implementing these suggestions would be a step in the right direction.

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