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At Thursday’s University of Michigan Board of Regents meeting held on UM-Dearborn’s campus, LSA senior Cooper Charlton, Central Student Government president, addressed the Board with a report heavily focused on the need for more mental health resources for students.
The report, including several requests for change in how mental health is handled on campus, came after the death of a University student Monday evening.
“Our deepest sympathies go out to his family and close friends at this time and the impact his death has had on this campus is widespread, and it comes with a deep pain,” Charlton said.
He began his report to the Regents by saying student leaders and mental health activists have been working this week to create a peer support space to help students cope with the recent death. He added that students have also compiled a list of University support resources which was distributed to the campus community. Students are also planning a vigil to be held on both Central and North campus in the near future.
While Charlton said seeing positive support from the entire campus community has been heartening over the past few days, he said he wants to create a more caring environment all the time, not only during times like these.
“Although all these efforts are great, it saddens me that it took all this community support and gentleness and caring because of tragedy,” he said.
One of Charlton’s requests to the regents included an increased staff of mental health professionals in the University’s Counseling and Psychological Services department. He said he hopes to see the University commit to hiring 1 counselor for every 1,000 students, a ratio he called the nation’s “gold standard.”
NewMICH, one of three parties with an executive ticket competing for next year’s CSG president and vice president, has also stressed this gold standard over past months. Other parties have also stressed a range of changes to mental wellness on campus.
Charlton additionally asked the Regents to be thoughtful of where CAPS is located following a planned remodeling of the Michigan Union, a platform point CSG party Your Michigan has also stressed.
The requests for improved mental health resources for students were echoed later in the meeting during public comments by LSA senior Brittney Williams. Williams told the regents she suffered from depression when she was a sophomore in 2006.
“I spent much of my time isolated or asleep and struggled to get out of bed every day, let alone to class. My depression completely debilitated me,” Williams said.
She added that in her experience, while CAPS was a great resource, it was largely inaccessible. In particular, she said she had difficulty making timely appointments and was told she should seek outside resources to to receive long-term care for her chronic illness, which she said wasn’t a possibility due to money and transportation concerns.
Williams, who is set to graduate this spring after an extended leave from the University, also noted that over the time she’s been here, mental health resources on campus seem to largely have remained the same.
Citing new wellness services like therapy dogs and peer support, but no changes to the size of CAPS’ office or mental health resources on North Campus, she said it was important to prioritize the issue on campus more.
“That’s it? That’s what’s new to mitigate mental health issues with the type of money this institution has?” Williams said.
In response, E. Royster Harper, vice president of student life, said mental health was a priority to the University, saying that seven staff members have been added to CAPS in the last two years in response to an increase in the demand for mental health services.
In a 2014-2015 annual report, CAPS cited a 17 percent rise in the demand for clinical services, mirroring the national rise in demand as well. In that same year, the agency implemented the Initial Consultation system, reducing the average wait time from 13 days to five.
Though Charlton noted that he knows improved mental resources is no small feat, he told the regents the cost was one worth incurring for the University.
“I know that these commitments will be at a cost, but I saw what better investment is there than our student body?”