TW: This article discusses and mentions suicide.
As my time as an NYU first-year comes to an end, I’ve been looking back on some of the year’s defining moments. Losing myself in the crowd during Welcome Week, listening to my idols speak during MLK Week, watching the talented performers at UltraViolet Live and capping the year off with cake at Strawberry Fest have been undeniably great. But as I think of these events, I cannot help but remind myself of other incidents that have occurred on campus this year: NYU lost two students, one in the fall and one in the spring, to suicide.
Welcome Week and the tragic deaths of two students seem to have nothing to do with one another. But the Center for Student Life, the Wasserman Center for Career Development, Residential Life and Housing Services and many more share their budget with the Wellness Exchange and the Student Health Center, making the picture unclear as to how much funding SHC actually receives. Nevertheless, based on the information available, the SHC is inarguably understaffed, which raises questions about how effective it can be in meeting students’ needs. This ineffectiveness becomes even more apparent when NYU’s mental health service is juxtaposed with those of other universities.
I, like many other students, was shaken when a classmate died in October. My fellow first-years and I had a violent awakening to what sophomores, juniors and seniors already knew: the Wellness Center might not be there for us when we need it the most. We learned about the true reason behind Bobst Library’s gilded architecture, and we found out that a meme page could provide more support than the Wellness Exchange. I had assumed that since NYU prides itself on its facilities being state-of-the-art, its mental health facilities would be top-notch as well — not to mention that NYU Langone has an excellent mental health department. But the SHC is grossly understaffed.
According to the SHC’s staff webpage, NYU’s New York campus currently employs 43 staff members in Counseling and Wellness. (Thirteen are listed as “social workers”; 10 are listed as “psychologists.” Only three are listed as “counselors.”) According to the most recent data, NYU’s New York campus has a total enrollment of 51,123, meaning the SHC has approximately one wellness professional for every 1,189 students. If each staff member were to work for 24 hours straight, they would only be able to provide each student with eight minutes and 28.5 seconds of counseling per week. The American Psychological Association says that the average psychotherapy session typically lasts 45 to 50 minutes. Because the SHC is so understaffed, it is currently unable to provide NYU’s student body with what is deemed to be the bare minimum by national standards.
This inadequacy is reflected in the prolonged wait times that students face when seeking counseling at the SHC. Students usually experience three-week wait times for their first appointments — sometimes even between appointments — which is two weeks longer than the seven-day national average. “Many said the wait times were discouraging,” as reported in a recent WSN piece, “with some giving up on using NYU’s services because of them.” Feeling disheartened by the absurdly long wait times, many of these students turned to their families or friends as a source of therapy instead. The APA says it is both harmful and unethical to use one’s loved ones as therapists.
Understaffing the SHC has proven to render it entirely ineffective. Because of this, students have been forced to try and help themselves in ways that are destructive to both themselves and their peers. An ineffective Student Health Center hurts all of NYU’s student body, and the administration has a responsibility to do better by its students.
Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, May 6, 2019, print edition. Email Abby Hofstetter at [email protected]