In light of student demands for improved mental health care services, University Health Services, or UHS, has taken multiple measures within the past few years to improve its mental health care services. Among these changes have been the addition of new satellite locations and the elimination of fees associated with counseling.
The basis of the university’s mental health care program is counseling and psychological services, or CAPS, which provides students with short-term counseling to help them with academic, career and personal needs. Its team, which consists of psychologists, social workers and advanced-level trainees, also holds group workshops on a variety of subjects.
The program, which provides students with access to psychiatric services, served 6,343 students in the 2016-17 academic year, or 16 percent of the campus student body. In the last two years, the CAPS program has seen an 8 percent increase in students using these services and a 36 percent increase in the last five years.
Fees and continued treatment
With the intention of “reducing barriers” for those seeking counseling, the Tang Center has eliminated the fees associated with counseling, including waiving the $15 fee for sessions and removing no-show fees.
UHS has also removed the limit on free sessions, which were previously capped at five free sessions. This has been replaced with a system in which counselors determine the number of sessions a student should pursue depending on their needs. UHS hopes this change will better accommodate all students, including those who lack health insurance.
“Many students benefit from just a few sessions of counseling,” said Tang Center spokesperson Tami Cate, adding that UHS can help connect students with private and campus mental health care providers if they require longer-term assistance.
In order to streamline services, the Tang Center’s website has added a new interactive referral list to the CAPS website. Additionally, the center has hired a referral coordinator who can meet with students struggling to find a referral in the community.
Accessibility and efficiency
CAPS has also added two new offices in the past year, adding up to a total of 11 satellite locations. One is located on the fourth floor of the Multicultural Community Center, or MCC, and the other is in the Graduate Assembly office. Additionally, the office for counseling services at the Bowditch Annex has moved to Anna Head Alumnae Hall.
The Tang Center has also expanded its drop-in-hours, which do not require any form of paperwork or an appointment from students. Susan Bell, a psychologist and the assistant director for outreach and consultation services, said the center hopes to reach “underserved students who are hesitant to approach counseling especially at Tang.” Staffing has remained an issue for this expansion of Tang Center resources, however.
“We would like to see students for (an) unlimited number of services, but unfortunately that isn’t possible with the current staffing,” Bell said.
Serving a diverse student body
Data collected in 2015 and 2016 indicate that 66 percent of students seen in the CAPS program are students of color, and UHS has sought to address gaps in this service, though some shortcomings remain.
“More work is needed to reach students of color and marginalized groups on campus,” Bell said.
In the past two years, CAPS has worked to improve diversity among its staff, including hiring 9 new service providers from a variety of backgrounds.
Through the Wellness Fund, a grant program established in 2015, UHS now helps support a variety of student-led programs that also seek to address these gaps in coverage, among them the Muslim Mental Health Initiative, the Queer Cal Pals program, the API Connect Peer outreach program and an MCC Wellness Coordinator.
Older outreach projects, including Let’s Talk, which provides students with brief counseling sessions on a drop-in basis, experienced a 30 percent increase in contracts within the past year. Currently, Let’s Talk has 14 locations, including new spaces at the Underground Scholars program, the Department of Ethnic Studies and MCC.
Though the Tang Center has made much progress, according to Bell, it still has a number of outstanding goals, such as improving current wait times. According to Bell, UHS is aiming to see 90 percent of students who seek its services within a two-week period. UHS therefore encourages students who need more immediate assistance to use its drop-in services.
They are also working to maintain a balance between outreach programming and clinical services. “CAPS is committed to social justice and to reach students who face barriers in seeking care,” Bell said.