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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: CAPS overbooked, underfunded

The destigmatizing of mental health care is a positive trend across the nation. This, however, is coupled with the increasing pressure to be accepted by a top university and the increasing cost of these universities, producing a crisis among students.

“Today’s college freshmen are significantly more likely to report that they are struggling with depression than even their predecessors of just five years ago,” writes Liz Goodwin for Yahoo News.

At Tulane University, a recent string of three suicides coupled with two other deaths rattled the student body and created a tipping point in the demand for on-campus mental health reform.

The Counseling and Psychological Services center at Tulane limits students to three visits with a psychiatrist due to the unmanageable amount of need, and it provides nothing more than a printout of off-campus psychiatrists for students who have reached this three-session cap. But what happens to students whose insurance is not accepted off campus or those who cannot find transportation to psychiatrists around the city?

The situation at Tulane is simply a microcosm of an overarching problem in the U.S., and the UA’s policies on mental health mirror those at Tulane in many disconcerting ways.

Although there is no limit on the number of sessions students can attend at UA Counseling and Psych Services, anyone seeking treatment must first go through a triage counselor to determine if they are even eligible to visit with a psychiatrist.

“[The triage process] was more of an unnecessary roadblock than a helpful tool,” said Adam Crompton, a management information systems senior.

Crompton, who had used CAPS services before, chose not to seek another appointment due to his experience with the triage process.

Additionally, CAPS advocates for short-term treatment and states on its website that “in cases where long-term therapy seems best, the professional staff will assist the student with a referral to an off-campus resource.” This is done via a printout with the names and phone numbers of alternative psychiatrists and psychologists — the same policy being criticized at Tulane.

Our CAPS staff is also overbooked. About four weeks ago, I contacted CAPS to schedule a brief appointment to get a medication prescription. I was put through the triage process and told that someone would contact me the next day to schedule an appointment. No such contact happened.

After several days, I contacted the office again. After numerous calls that ended in an answering machine, I finally made contact with the scheduler, only to be told the next available appointment was six weeks away.

Despite my insistence I needed medication that week, I was given a suggestion to revisit the CAPS office to receive a printout of available off-campus psychiatrists. When I called again this week, the next appointment available was still a full three weeks away. This presents a significant roadblock to students in need of immediate help.

This system is unsustainable. Tulane does not require a triage visit, provides an after-hours number for psychological emergencies and encourages students in crisis to alert the receptionist when scheduling an appointment.

If students are referred to an off-campus therapist, the issues of insurance and transportation prevent many from acquiring the help they need. Although small improvements could and should be made within CAPS itself, the larger issue is not the fault of CAPS; thousands of students each year are able to meet with CAPS psychiatrists and receive excellent treatment. In fact, students seen by the psychiatrists at CAPS report extremely high satisfaction.

Instead, the burden falls on the university as a whole, which must be held responsible for underfunding and under-supporting CAPS. The triage program exists to limit the number of students who see psychiatrists because the CAPS office is overworked. Glenn Matchett-Morris, associate director of CAPS, agrees.

“The lack of funding limits our ability to hire enough staff for the students,” he said. “We’re under the national requirement for a therapist-to-student ratio.”

Matchett-Morris also described the various ways CAPS tries to expedite the waiting process without the needed funding, which includes promoting group therapy and filling canceled appointments quickly.

“Students want to be seen during a specific week, and if the wait time is a month, we can’t help them,” he said. “An increase in funding would change this.”

This is in line with a nationwide trend: A 2014 survey revealed that “nearly 95 percent of college counseling directors said their campuses have a greater number of students with ‘severe psychological issues’ than ever before.”

As the number of students requiring adequate mental health care increases, universities, including our own, must begin to improve their psychological programs to better provide for their students. This begins with an investment in mental health care.

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Cooper Temple is a sophomore studying economics and Middle Eastern & North African studies. Follow him on Twitter.

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