Mental health care in Pa.’s largest community college system takes a hit

Rebekah Waldron, North Campus Editor

HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, has eliminated on-campus mental health services for its students as of mid-September. The decision was followed by heavy backlash from the students affected.

“The campus should have a safe environment in which students can go to for mental health, but they’re not allowing it,” said HACC student Liz Rojas Gomez. Many students are in agreement with Gomez that the college’s decision to forego on campus services, for student mental health, was a poor choice.

In the interest of continuing to have some supportive services to offer to students, the college has signed a one-year agreement with Mazzitti & Sullivan Counseling Services Inc. This agreement says that the local firm will provide students counseling in-person, over the phone or through video chat. As part of the agreement, HACC will pay for students to receive up to three sessions per semester, but it will not provide a location for these services on any of its five campuses.

HACC President John Sygielski explains on the HACC website that the decision is part of a larger, three-part plan to streamline and sustain the college’s resources.

“There has been an increase in demand for virtual services and flexible services outside of regular office hours,” Sygielski said. “With the reorganization, external counseling services will augment the college’s services by providing extended hours and, in some cases, offer 24/7 service.”

The decision to cut the on-campus access for mental health services comes at a risky time for college students. There is a persistent rise of students who are experiencing depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts or tendencies. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, suicide has nearly doubled within the last decade.

“We’re in a period of time when a lot of colleges and universities either are increasing their mental-health services or need to be,” said Marissa Meyers, a researcher of policies to support college students at the Hope Center for College in Philadelphia. “What if a student who is depressed and seeks mental-health services on campus doesn’t follow up with a local provider and attempts suicide?”