By: Danielle Modica | August 22, 2021
SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras directed every SUNY campus to allocate $24 million for the development of new mental health services. The investment was announced as part of a recent press conference addressing mental health and wellness concerns across SUNY campuses.
The investment is one of a series of recommendations released in June by the SUNY Mental Health and Wellness Task Force. The task force was formed in fall 2019 to explore how the SUNY system can better address mental health issues among its students.
This funding comes after seeing an increase in mental health issues among students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Over the past 16 months, mental health concerns have only escalated,” said Trustee Eunice Lewin in a press release on the announcement. “It is our responsibility to face these needs head-on and ensure that we are putting the health and safety of our students at the top of our priority list.”
Malatras is enforcing that all SUNY schools allocate approximately five percent of the federal American Rescue Plan (COVID-19 Stimulus) package towards mental health reform in response to these concerns. Prior to this investment, individual SUNY campuses were contributing $35 million towards mental health support services. With the addition of this new investment, this marks the largest mental health investment in SUNY history, totalling to $59 million for the 2021-2022 academic year.
According to Malatras, the increase in funding will go into investigating and addressing rising mental health challenges on campuses.
“We’re working to make sure all students have access to the support they need,” said SUNY Brockport President Heidi MacPherson.
The initial mental health reform plan has multiple recommendations from the Mental Health Task Force report, spanning from employing permanent mental health professionals to establishing various advisory committees.
The funding is expected to be used towards expanding training for residential staff, expanding SUNY’s Crisis Text Line, establishing Peer-to-Peer hotlines and creating safe spaces.
Malatras also announced the creation of a Disability Task Force a few days after the funding announcement, set to investigate ways to improve overall accessibility, increase academic opportunities, and actively address stigma.
“Students with disabilities face significant challenges and are more likely to drop out of college than those without disabilities and cite a lack of accommodations and support services as their top reason,” Malatras said. “This tells us we need to do more.”
There are multiple mental health resources available on SUNY campuses, including Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), Advocacy Center for Sexual Violence, Middle Earth, and the Gender and Sexual Resource Center (GSRC). However, UAlbany students have expressed discontent with current efforts, saying that trained de-escalation professionals should be accessible 24/7.
Controversy first struck UAlbany when campus police introduced their Community Response Unit (CRU) in April 2021, in response to student desire for more mental health professionals on campus.
Multiple UAlbany student groups have been pushing for the implementation of a Mobile Crisis Unit to replace UPD’s CRU, stating they are “disappointed that the CRU does not do enough to distinguish itself from a normal police unit in order to adequately alleviate students' fears of police.” (Via ASP coverage of the CRU)
The Mobile Crisis Unit seeks to “support community members 24/7 with crisis management, navigation, counseling & mediation in order to promote healing through harm reduction and trauma-informed care, rather than carceral and institutional methods.” (Via SJAC website)
UAlbany’s National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Social Justice Action Committee (SJAC) gained Senate backing for the Crisis Unit in March 2021 with a 29-2-1 vote. The Graduate Student Senate was set to vote on the legislation in May 2021, however it was postponed to the fall semester due to lack of meeting attendance.
SJAC also completed a mental health survey in May 2021 gauging various factors, including - but not limited to - the utilization of existing services, desired campus crisis response, and experience with current mental health services. The results showed that 72% of students surveyed support the creation of a Mobile Crisis Unit and that 57% of students are not satisfied with the level UAlbany administration invests in campus mental-well-being.
UAlbany President Havidán Rodriguez and Vice President Michael Christakis have yet to formally acknowledge this research. For a record of the SJAC’s findings, see the full survey report.
Via SJAC’s UAlbany Student Mental Health and Crisis Experience Survey Results
Through SJAC’s efforts, UAlbany students amongst the rest of the SUNY community have expressed a desire for mental health reform. SUNY’s decision to invest seems to be the administration's response to discontent.
“This investment is a promise but only the start of long needed change,” a statement from NAMI reads. “We will continue to push to make sure this promise is fulfilled.”
Current campus services have not yet received specifics on where or what the investment will be spent, but are optimistic about the outcome.
“While it remains to be determined how to best allocate any additional funding, I am optimistic that this will be put toward providing services to treat concerns and promote well-being of students,” CAPS director Karen Sokolowski said. “I am hopeful that this investment will provide additional resources for CAPS so that we can continue to improve our services for UAlbany students.”