Students angered by lack of psychiatrists at Pitt Counseling Center

With 130 shares, more than 530 signatures and more than 100 comments, an online petition criticizing Pitt’s support of mental health services made its way around social media this weekend.

Anna Shaw, a junior psychology and gender, sexuality, and women’s studies major, started the petition on Friday after finding out that the only remaining psychiatrist at Pitt’s Counseling Center is leaving.

There are currently two vacant positions in the Counseling Center: one from the psychiatrist who left Friday and one still open from a psychiatrist who left this summer, according to Student Affairs spokesperson Shawn Ahearn.

The Counseling Center’s website still lists John Carter Brooks as the only psychiatrist on staff, but a statement posted Friday evening on the Student Affairs Facebook page said the Center is “working quickly to fill two vacant positions.”

Ahearn also said the center is currently recruiting to fill the positions and doesn’t know yet when the replacements will be hired. He added that the position might not be filled by two full-time employees but by a combination of full-time and part-time employees.

Shaw’s petition argues that due to a temporary lack of psychiatric care, students who cannot afford outside sources of mental health care will not have access to their medication until the position is filled.

“Pitt has made a decision about how they think about mental healthcare [sic] by letting this position go empty and has opted to let hundreds of mentally ill students slip through the cracks until it’s replaced,” the petition reads.

As of Monday night, the petition had 554 signatures and more than 100 comments from Pitt students, the parents of Pitt students and others.

On the Counseling Center’s homepage, Pitt says it has been “actively recruiting” for a psychiatrist since May. While it searches for a replacement.

Ahearn also directed The Pitt News to the Student Affairs Facebook page, where he said a statement was posted on Friday evening in response to the petition. The Pitt News could not find the post on the page, but Ahearn provided the text in an email.

“We understand that some students are concerned about the availability of psychiatric services due to the retirement and departure of two of our psychiatrists, respectively,”  the statement reads. “Whether the services exist within the Counseling Center or nearby in the community, our paramount concern is to connect students to the care that best meets their particular needs. This includes the psychiatric needs of our students.“

Ed Michaels, the director of the Counseling Center, said the Center has been in contact with local providers to help provide psychiatry services to Pitt students.

“We continue to work diligently to fill the vacant psychiatrist position in our University Counseling Center as quickly and strategically as possible to meet the needs of our students,” Michaels said in an emailed statement. “In addition, it is important for us to hire the right people, who can provide the level of care and psychiatry services our students expect.”

Pitt has expanded its counseling services to now include a total of 20 counselors and plans to open an additional location on campus, according to the statement.

The petition has been updated to say the Counseling Center is seeking a replacement for the position.

Shaw said she is not criticizing the Counseling Center but wants the petition to be a “red flag” for Pitt to not let this happen again.

“The goal of the petition is to ask Pitt to take [mental health care] more seriously and to put the funds and the importance there that need to be there in order for lapses like this to never occur again,” Shaw said.

The petition cropped up immediately following the University’s Mental Health Awareness Week, which began Oct. 10 and included such events as a lecture from a professional who struggled with mental illness and and an art gallery.

Shaw met with representatives from Pitt’s Counseling Center Monday afternoon to discuss how to move forward and “talk to Pitt administration about putting the money, time and effort into making this an extremely effective counseling center.”

“This should never happen again, and there should be steps in place that it doesn’t — or at the very least have a temp immediately ready,” Shaw said.