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The CAPS experience: Adaptations to COVID-19, accessibility barriers, innovative programming and more

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Gracie Kayko

Chairs stretch down the waiting area inside the Counseling and Psych Services office. CAPS offices are located on the third floor of the Campus Health Center. 

The University of Arizona Campus Health’s Counseling and Psych Services provides mental health resources to students, but the cost and time constraints required to obtain them has dissuaded some students from getting support. 

Support from CAPS can include counseling, crisis intervention, assessments and support groups for specific issues. CAPS employs a diverse group of mental health professionals such as licensed psychologists, social workers and counselors who are trained to work in their specialty to provide help to students. 

The costs of each session can vary and there is a notable difference between the costs for students with and without insurance. The CAPS program accepts any students who are currently attending the UA and students who have paid their health and wellness fee are eligible for these services at a cheaper rate. 

The costs of an initial visit can be as low as $15, however, this price will increase for any following sessions. There are also additional charges that are associated with specialized services such as psychiatric consultations or off-campus referrals. 

Expense was one of the main issues that students faced when discussing their interests in getting help from the CAPS program.

There are ways in which students can get help covering expenses from donors, however, some students felt like this had a lot of funding constraints which caused them to look for help in other locations not affiliated with the university. 

In some cases, students may face financial barriers to accessing mental health services, such as high copays or deductibles for counseling sessions. UA Campus Health’s annual Health and Wellness Survey stated that over 30% of students from each racial/ethnic group surveyed did not seek help due to financial barriers although they required assistance. 

Another current issue within the CAPS program is the staffing and resource shortage that they have been facing over the years. 

This has resulted in many students experiencing long wait times for appointments. With fewer staff members available in providing counseling and support services there is a limited availability of specialized services. Examples of these services are things like ADHD assessments, sexual violence survivor support and LGBTQIA+ mental health services. 

The limited scheduling options available for counseling appointments, such as only being able to choose between a same-day or next-day appointment, may discourage some students from booking an appointment, even if they are interested. 

While staff members focus on being attentive to each student that does make an appointment, that leaves the outreach and prevention efforts to be lowered for others who do not know much about CAPS.

This was especially an issue during the COVID-19 pandemic when CAPS and the university as a whole were experiencing many short-staffed areas. 

However, the total visits to CAPS during COVID-19 decreased from the usual average of the past years, according to the CAPS 2021-2022 Annual Report. The previous 4-year average was 18,735 visits and this number saw a 6% decrease during the pandemic. 

CAPS’ COVID-19 response was to move all their systems online with Zoom sessions and to connect out-of-state students with care within their state. Some students were unaware of this new move, however, and there were issues with ensuring that students had access to the necessary technology and resources to participate in online counseling. 

Yet, even with some challenges that they faced at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the CAPS 2021-2022 Annual Report 92% of students felt satisfied with the type of care they had received during their online sessions.

The demand for CAPS help and resources was greatly needed during this time as many students’ mental health was being impacted due to COVID-19. The pandemic caused a widespread disruption of life, leaving many students feeling socially isolated, financially stressed and concerned over their personal health and safety. 

During this time, CAPS was providing many mental health support resources online. These resources were things like teaching how to deal with COVID-19 in real time, teaching about COVID-19 anxiety and providing mental health and wellness tools. 

“During this time I had graduated and entered college while a global pandemic was happening which would cause me a lot of anxiety and stress, especially when trying to navigate school on an online platform. I had heard about CAPS and was trying to reach out to them; however I just found it difficult in trying to conduct a counseling session on Zoom,” said Lyonel Santa Cruz, a sophomore at the university who started school during the pandemic.

During the spring of 2021, CAPS introduced the CAPS Care Pathway Model, which emphasized collaboration between students and counselors. The goal of this new model was to offer a variety of care options for students that went beyond the usual one-on-one counseling. 

However, this approach was more focused on students with milder concerns. 

Matty Ortega, an alumna of the UA, talked about her experience with CAPS and the new model addition.  

“The only downside is that [CAPS] was a very beginner experience for me where all we did was talk about what was going on with me and my counselor would give me reassuring words. I would have liked to experience something like this where it is more targeted to help me decrease or better manage my stress,” Ortega said. “It is a great place to start as I am confident a counselor there would identify where the patient could go next if CAPS doesn’t offer what they need.”

Many students who do know about the program and the resources offered often felt a lack of trust or security with the program. 

Faith Johnson, a student representative of CAPS, spoke about this lack of trust and how it can affect treatment.

“It is just a matter of trust, I am African American so a lot of times when it comes to mental health there is a lot of stigma behind it from a cultural aspect,” Johnson said. “There are a lot of people in CAPS who can’t identify or represent in my community. So a lot of times people would want to have someone that looks like you and understands you from a cultural aspect. Because of the fact that the representation is not there, it can be easy for people to not feel understood.”

With more than half of the students who are using CAPS being white or Caucasian, it is easy to see how some students may feel about accessing these resources. There is an accessibility issue when students are trying to get help as they feel excluded or unable to get help due to these mental health stigmas that some cultures point out, or when they don’t feel properly seen or represented. 

However, with more outreach and information about these topics from CAPS, more students can become aware of how to get the help they need. 


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About the Contributor
Gracie Kayko
Gracie Kayko, Multimedia Editor
Gracie Kayko is a senior at the University of Arizona studying journalism with a minor in marketing.
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