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Addressing mental health resources at the University of Pennsylvania

This petition had 4,736 supporters


We, students and supporters of the University of Pennsylvania, are writing to express our concern over the state of mental health and the over-stressed student culture. Below, we have outlined the immediate problems that we feel need to be addressed. We understand that these issues and these problems are not easy to solve. They will require innovative solutions and an open discussion between the administration and the entirety of the Penn campus. However, these issues are far too prevalent and devastating to be deferred any longer. We cannot and will not allow further loss of student life when our resources and the rules of our institution are not doing all they can to help students. Immediate, goal-oriented, and actionable plans are required. An open discussion must be initiated within the Penn community.

We are thus requesting to collaborate with the administration of the University of Pennsylvania to make meaningful and lasting changes in response to these issues. We are open and eager to work with the University in addressing the actionable changes below.

  1. Increased resources must be allocated to not only making sure that wait times for CAPS and other help lines are minimized, but also to publicizing the availability and function of all of the University's resources. Currently, we recognize that the University has many resources that the larger community does not actually know; if they do know of such resources, it is only by name and not true function. More must be done to tell students exactly what the University can do for them. 
  2. Mental Health First Aid or Awareness training should be mandated for all RAs and educators employed by the University of Pennsylvania. These individuals should be taught how to recognize a mental health emergency.
  3. Many Wharton classes have a relatively small percent of their final grades realized before the withdrawal period. The ability to withdrawal after the withdrawal deadline requires “extenuating circumstance,” which in the case of mental illness, necessitates a note from a medical professional. As described above, CAPS does not have the capability of serving students in a timely fashion. Furthermore, students do not always have the time or the resources to outsource their health care by seeing a therapist who is unaffiliated with CAPS or SHS. Finally, there always exists the possibility that a withdrawal request may be denied.
  4. The ability for a student to take a leave of absence due to mental illness is qualified by certain risk factors that can deter students from taking time off and can leave them feeling trapped by the system. As specified by the University, students seeking to take a medical leave of absence due to a mental health issue must present a CAPS physician’s evaluation in order to return from the leave of absence. As per University policy right now, students whose leave request indicated medical circumstances as at least part of the reason for that request will be required to present an appropriate physician’s current evaluation of the medical condition to the relevant health office (Counseling and Psychological Services and/or Student Health Service). The College, in consultation with these offices, will determine whether the results of the evaluation suffice to satisfy the conditions set forth in the original message granting approval for the leave. In practice, there needs to be more transparency to the student as well as more efficient communication and coordination between these offices. The request to return may be denied.
  5. There is also a high financial barrier involved with taking leaves of absences. A student who withdraws from the College (or who is requested to withdraw for failure to maintain a satisfactory academic standing) or who is granted a leave of absence during either term of the academic year will be eligible for a reduction in tuition and fees in accordance with the conditions set forth below. The effective date of separation is the date the student files a written request for withdrawal or leave of absence. Requests within the first two weeks of class have a 100% reduction, requests within the third and fourth weeks of class have a 50% reduction, and thereafter, requests have a 0% reduction. This heavily disadvantages students whose mental illnesses emerge not in the first four weeks of school, but in the remaining weeks. Depending on how long students are not enrolled, they may have to begin making payments on their loans. It is critically important that students avoid becoming delinquent on your loans while they are out of school. Delinquency may result in ineligibility for further aid and may make it impossible for them to return at a later date to complete their education.
  6. Lack of support for organizations and individuals affected by a traumatic event. In wake of several suicides in the past, deeply affected organizations and individuals have been left to cope with the frightening and devastating aftermath by themselves, without any help or guidance from the University’s trained mental health professionals. The process of loss and the associated feelings of grief, guilt, and despair was never explained as a part of the normal healing process.
    The University must establish a crisis response team, whether through CAPS or another department, that can mobilize and engage these organizations and individuals to guide them through the healing and coping process. The response team must be highly trained in post-vention support.


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