Letter to the editor: mental health at Tech

Photo courtesy of Blake Israel

When GT CARE opened on Aug. 19, 2019, over 40 students showed up. 

The next day, over 80 came and by the end of that week, close to 100 students had sought out CARE’s services. What is GT CARE, and why was it founded? 

The Center for Assessment, Referral and Education (CARE) is housed on the first floor of the Smithgall Student Services Building and serves as the entry point for students to access mental health support, services and resources at Tech. 

CARE was born out of the “Path Forward — Together” initiative, which was launched in October 2017.  

It rallied student, staff and faculty feedback to create positive changes on campus by focusing on three pillars: academics, well-being and student and community life. 

The goal of this new service was to intake students quickly, assess their needs and refer them to appropriate resources. 

Each student is unique in their referral needs and on-campus referrals are to the Counseling Center, Stamps Psychiatry or other departments. 

Students are also referred to off-campus services if the case manager deems that they need long-term mental health care that cannot be provided through Tech services or that their needs would be better served off-campus. 

When COVID-19 hit in March 2020, the number of students going to CARE dropped slightly, but demand still remained relatively high. 

More case managers were hired, and CARE began to see students for more than one session. As staff increased, follow-ups with students who sought CARE’s services also increased. 

CARE was making an impact and was successful in its goal of quickly triaging new patients and referring them to appropriate resources.

Students no longer had to deal with long wait times to talk with a case manager, which was a helpful starting point for students who didn’t know where to turn to access mental health care. 

Today, when asked about their experiences with CARE, what do students say about it? 

Although we have heard students express a varying degree of satisfaction with the services, many report having or hearing of negative experiences with CARE. 

Often, students don’t know where to start, and it is common to not know the difference between the many campus mental health services. 

This can cause disappointment with the reality of CARE’s services and creates a bottleneck effect for students who already know they need to access a specific mental health resource. 

Referrals off-campus also create barriers for many students who are unable to access these services for a variety of reasons, such as finances and location. 

Students report issues with the scheduling process itself, including missed or unreturned phone calls, staff shortages at the front desk and slow email responses, with many students wishing for broadened accessibility to CARE appointments via online scheduling.  

Just in the past year, as part of the Cultivate Well-Being Action and Transformation Roadmap, CARE was combined with the Counseling Center into the new Center for Mental Health Care and Resources to address bottlenecking issues and to centralize mental health care at Tech. 

The creation of this new center brings the opportunity for a realignment of administrative priorities and student needs. 

To administration: for us, mental health care on Tech’s campus feels like an afterthought, both due to the negative experiences students have had and the physical size of CARE and the Counseling Center.

We call upon administration to work closely with student advocates to understand student needs and work through solutions hand-in-hand to create an improved student experience for those who seek mental health care on campus. 

To students: if you have had a negative experience with CARE before, your experience is not only heard but is very valid. 

Students tend to walk into CARE when they need immediate help, despite its value as a preventative measure. 

When the support doesn’t live up to expectations, it’s understandable to be frustrated, disappointed and disheartened. 

For students who haven’t gone to CARE or the Counseling Center, we encourage you to still seek out help when needed. 

Sometimes when we read Reddit posts and hear the extremely negative experiences that students have had, our opinions of services can be preemptively negative even though for some, the service has been a positive experience for them.

Forming a holistic, realistic understanding of the Institute’s mental health services requires that we hold and validate both positive and negative experiences. 

CARE was created in response to an outcry from the Tech students — and it worked! 

As students, it is integral that we continue to voice our mental health needs to administration, and together, we can continue on a strong path forward.