Chico State counseling services were not prepared for a mass crisis

Here we are, just mere weeks after the Camp Fire started a few Thursday mornings ago. Classes are back in session, campus jobs are up and running and we are now left with the aftermath of dealing with both school, and also the most deadly and destructive fire in California history.

The campus has been offering support for students, staff and faculty who are being affected by the fire. From an email written by Chico State President Gayle Hutchinson sent to campus during the campus closure, “This is only the beginning and we will be here for you all along the way. Together, Wildcats rise.”

Counseling services have been extended during the first week back, including workshops navigating through feelings associated with grief and loss, pop-up and individual counseling for those affected by this crisis and other helpful resources. This is absolutely needed for those who need this help. They have gone through so much and will continue to need this type of support.

But with that being said, counseling services are still severely lacking. Before this devastation, students were already struggling with being able to set up counseling appointments, sometimes even more than a month apart from each other. Same-day appointments were already hard to come by, even if you called exactly at 8 a.m. This is because our campus only has 11 counselors (only nine offer same-day appointments) to supply 17,000+ students with their counseling needs. And now, these same counselors are expected to be enough for all of those thousands of students, plus the hundreds affected by the Camp Fire.

As much as campus will preach that they are here for us, and will be here for us, they have already shown us that they are not. We do not have enough counselors to deal with regular amounts of crises, trauma, mental illnesses and mental health issues that already exist within our community. In the wake of this disaster, we were not prepared. And I know that our counselors are fighting tooth and nail to help as many people in a day as possible, but the bottom line is that there is just not enough counselors and resources. It’s fair to say that the campus was not prepared for any amount of mass crisis, at all.

During the week that campus was closed, I missed a counseling appointment that I waited a month for. I’m not alone in this, as every person who had counseling set up or needed a crisis appointment that week was also not able to get those services. My next scheduled appointment is not for another few weeks, so I rely heavily on same day appointments in between my far and few appointments.

During the three days I had time for counseling this week, I called exactly at 8 a.m. to try and set something up. On all three days, the lines were flooding with calls across campus and I had to hang up and recall, repeatedly, until somebody picked up my line. And every time, I was told that all the appointments were booked for the day and only if I was in crisis, I could come into the office.

I feel guilty enough when I have to schedule a same-day appointment for myself and take it away from somebody else who may need it as much as I do, or even more. And now that this type of devastation exists in our community, it feels impossible to use a crisis appointment when I feel I need it, because I may be taking away that time from a person affected by the fire.

I can’t afford private counseling, along with the rest of us who rely on it. I know people who pay $150 a session to see somebody privately. That’s more than the entire cost of my groceries and gas for a week.

Chico State has failed us. I’ve heard talk of more counselors being hired next semester, but I don’t know if that’s true. If it is, then fantastic. But it still took a mass crisis for that to happen. They shouldn’t wait until the worst case scenario to fix things. They should have fixed things so that we could have been prepared for a worst-case scenario.

Regardless, the campus and community still is struggling and will continue to struggle for an unknown amount of months or years. I beg campus to reevaluate every protocol, policy, resource and service provided to campus, so in the following months, accessibility will improve for counseling services and any other service. But until then, I guess we have no other choice but to trek on.

Rayanne Painter can be reached at opinoneditor@theorion.com or @rayphenomenon on Twitter.

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