Most students enter college eager to start fresh, experience the college life, excel at academics, and take on every opportunity they possibly can to build the perfect resume. The immersion into a new environment of parties, drugs, and peer pressure takes its toll on some. With all sorts of pressures, the ability to maintain a strong academic record becomes a challenge which induces stress, depression, anxiety and so much more. The Active Minds website provides statistics that almost one third of all college students have felt so depressed that they had trouble functioning. Further, about half of college students have thought about suicide, with about 1 in 10 considering it seriously. And about half of students who consider suicide never seek counseling or treatment.(1)
Inevitably, the stigma associated with needing help for mental health will deter many from using resources like CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Services).
In a collaborative effort at the University of California Student Association (UCSA), students at UCR are striving to eradicate the stigma associated with mental health and improve resources on all UC campuses. These efforts are part of the #HowAreYou campaign, which was adopted at the 2015 UC Student congress which 108 UCR students attended. The campaign aims to start a conversation addressing the reality that college students disproportionately experience mental health issues, but UC has failed to provide adequate services to support us. The major calls include: 1) access to counseling, 2) staff diversity to reflect the identities and experiences of the student body, and 3) outreach regarding the availability of services.
All CAPS centers were evaluated by UCSA and given a grade letter based on the same grading criteria from a rubric of seventeen questions posed at both CAPS staff and students. The UC wide average is a C, and UCR’s CAPS center has been evaluated at a C-. At UCR, the main weaknesses include: the lack of visibility of CAPS to a majority of students it should serve; the time it takes to schedule an intake and follow up appointment; and generally the lack of faith in the diversity of counselors currently available.
With all of these deficiencies identified, it is important to note that the CAPS center is currently improving the quality of clinicians and other resources they have to offer. With plans to introduce new clinicians and reduce the ratios of clinicians to students, this may address the problem of wait times. Still, this hiring process is taking place and currently does not have any student input. It would serve interested students of underrepresented communities to be apart of the hiring process of new clinicians The CAPS center is open to this possibility, but it needs to start happening now.
UCSA’s study revealed that the CAPS center currently houses a diverse set of counselors who are equipped with the ability to deal with different student concerns. The problem is, students don’t know enough about who these clinicians are before they schedule an appointment and will often be paired with someone who they aren’t entirely sure they can trust. Students call in, with hopes of being accommodated as soon as possible and have to wait at least 2 weeks, with some students having shared that it was nearly a month to wait. One student shared that they were told 3 weeks, but while on the call the secretary saw an opening in two days and scheduled them in. An ideal wait time for an intake appointment would be no more than 3 days because the pressing issue that the student needs to get off their chest requires immediate attention. Being told three weeks is enough for any student to immediately form their opinion of CAPS and how effective it can be.
In order for students to feel comfortable with mental health resources here at UCR, we need increased visibility of CAPS, in addition to tabling at orientations and pamphlets. More outreach by the CAPS center would include hosting workshops or even meet-and-greets with clinicians. Adding faces to the service would improve how inviting the center is to students. In addition to this, while CAPS is situated conveniently near the freshman dorms, a large population of commuter students don’t even know about the location of CAPS or that it exists at all. The inclusion of a satellite office in a more central location on campus would be useful for students who otherwise wouldn’t climb up the hill to the center. Increasing visibility would mean that the percentage of commuting students who need help know that they can actually conveniently park by the center when there for appointments.
A few student anonymously shared their feelings about CAPS recently with many expressing that stigma is a big part of why students do not seek help. Others mentioned that CAPS rings a hazy bell back from freshman orientation, which was the only time CAPS was visible. Those who experienced CAPS for walk-ins or appointment mentioned that they felt the clinician couldn’t understand their struggle. These problems need to start being addressed now.
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