Long a topic of advocacy and activism on campus, mental health on campus was given a new level of urgency in the past year, with at least six student deaths since last September adding to perennial concern surrounding Columbia’s unique culture of stress.
A Spectator investigation in January showed that Columbia’s undergraduate suicide rate in the past decade far outpaced the national college average and that the University’s practices for suicide prevention and postvention fell behind expert-recommended best practices. Students of color and international students were also shown to face a disproportionate level of risk.
Last spring, administrators announced the formation of a steering group on mental health tasked with assessing existing resources across campus and recommending University-wide improvements. Additionally, the Jed Foundation—a suicide prevention organization founded by a Columbia College alumnus—will partner with the steering group to spearhead an internal investigation of mental health crises at Columbia.
Going forward, a primary focus of the steering group will be Columbia’s Counseling and Psychological Services—a constant target of student complaints throughout the years.
The most common grievances students voiced about CPS revolve around scheduling appointments, as many students must wait at least two weeks just to see a clinician. Additional difficulties with CPS’s phone triage system further deter students from seeking mental health support, only adding to the host of obstacles that impede students from receiving treatment at Columbia.
The University has also begun to push for an increase in the number of students accessing mental health care on campus. Reducing risk for suicide on campus in the future is likely to hinge on the effort to increase the number of “gatekeepers,” or people who can identify students at risk for suicide and intervene in time.
In the week following Spectator’s reporting on Columbia’s suicide rate, Executive Vice President of University Life Suzanne Goldberg announced that suicide prevention gatekeeper training would be made available to all University staff and that the University would increase its mental health awareness programming.
Shortly after Goldberg’s announcement, Dean of Columbia College James Valentini also announced that all Columbia College staff would be mandated to receive gatekeeper training going forward. No such widespread training, however, has been mandated for faculty or students.