With a more stringent, almost fully-online winter semester on the horizon, students will continue dealing with mental health struggles due to isolation. Because of this, the University of Michigan’s Counseling and Psychological Services plans to increase resources.

CAPS Director Todd Sevig said the office is adding “new services in addition to individual counseling that students can utilize.”

“We have received increased allocations for additional staff for Winter and beyond,” Sevig wrote. “So, yes we are making some changes for the rest of this semester and for Winter to better meet current needs.”

Sevig said they have filled half of the new counseling positions and are collaborating with University students, administration and other Big 10 counseling centers to use the remaining funds most effectively. 

“We have actually filled 4 of the new 8 positions and they started this fall,” Sevig wrote. “The 4 new ones we have filled have helped us provide more services in our embedded model. We are actively considering the best way to allocate service with the remaining 4 positions — both short term for winter and longer term for beyond this year.”

The embedded model aims to install at least one full-time, specialized social worker or psychologist in each University school. 

While wait times for initial consultations with a counselor are currently only 2-3 days, these wait times have varied significantly this fall. Throughout the semester, students reported increased feelings of isolation and mental health struggles, raising concerns that resources at CAPS could be stretched thin. Students faced long wait times even before the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In an email to The Michigan Daily, Sevig said most wait times during the semester were usually “1.5-2.5 weeks” but that CAPS has seen “unpredicted surges in demand” since mid-October. Sevig said the increase in demand is caused by the challenges students are experiencing with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We’re devoting every available resource to meet the need because we don’t want the wait to be that long,” Sevig wrote.

To facilitate mental health and well-being for the winter term, the university also announced two mid-week, one-day “well-being breaks” without any scheduled academic activities on Feb. 24 and March 23.

LSA sophomore Ashley Ke said she used CAPS this fall, but felt there was a stigma around seeking professional help for mental health. Ke said CAPS provided her short-term relief from the everyday stresses of the pandemic. 

“I feel like in general, people seeking professional help are very stigmatized, and I think it’s been slowly getting better in terms of being talked about more,” Ke said. “I think in terms of just getting my feelings out about being stressed about classes because of COVID, or relationships and friendships, a lot of which has been exacerbated because of COVID, CAPS has been helpful.”

Ke said mostly online classes and social distancing precautions have affected her mental health.

“I’m very safe about following guidelines and so I don’t really leave my room, which definitely has consequences,” Ke said. “It’s hard to do work in the same place that you sleep and eat, and also I think it’s really forced a lot of us to confront holding ourselves accountable.”

CAPS uses an online scheduling system where students can sign up for appointments. Throughout this semester, students have experienced varying wait times for appointments with counselors. 

Ke, who scheduled her initial consultation online at the beginning of the semester in mid-September, said her experience went smoothly. The system allowed her to schedule bi-weekly appointments and the short wait times surprised her.

“I was pretty surprised because they got back to me pretty quickly,” Ke said. “They had more availability than I thought they would, at least from what I’ve heard in the past from talking to other students.”

Some students attempting to schedule consultations, especially later in the semester, have had a different experience — finding no immediate availability and wait times longer than a month. 

LSA freshman Ava Ben-David sought out CAPS this fall due to the constantly changing nature of the semester, which included a stay-in-place order and the closure of residence halls for the winter term.

“I sought some counseling, just someone to talk to, because this semester has been so crazy and there’s been a lot of changes,” Ben-David said. “It was getting stressful so I just wanted to talk to someone at CAPS, and I thought it would be a super seamless process.”

For Ben-David, the process was not simple and long wait times dissuaded her from going to CAPS.

“When I went on the website and I saw that I had to basically wait a month for the next available time slot, I was like, ‘this is not worth it,’ and I just never actually received the type of care that I was expecting from the University,” Ben-David said.

During the pandemic, administrative support of mental health services is even more pressing. 

Ben-David said changes to the “normal” college experience have presented challenges to freshmen and hindered people’s abilities to form friendships.

“This is not how we should be entering college, but obviously there’s nothing we can do about it so we just have to try our best,” Ben-David said. “Generally feeling isolated has definitely taken a toll on everyone’s mental health  — I don’t think I’m the only one for sure.”

Ke said the University increasing support for CAPS would go a long way in expanding their ability to provide the services that students expect. 

“I definitely think, in general, the administration should be investing more in CAPS,” Ke said. “I don’t think a lot of it is necessarily their fault — they’re just understaffed and underfunded and there needs to be more resources invested in them because it’s just so important.”

Sevig wrote that the new positions CAPS filled in the fall increased their presence in 18 out of 19 schools and colleges at the University, adding four new sites. 

The 2020-2021 University budget for counseling services is nearly 3 million dollars, about 0.03% of the total Ann Arbor campus budget for the current fiscal year. The counseling services funding comes out of the general fund for University expenditures and represents about 0.1% of the general fund. 

This year’s CAPS expenditures are identical to the budget for 2019-2020 which was an almost $800,000 decrease from the previous fiscal year. 

Ben-David said she felt disappointed by the University as well as confused by how resources are allocated with regards to mental health services. 

“When I saw that I couldn’t even see someone just to talk to for 15 minutes, I was so frustrated because I thought that it should not be this complicated,” Ben-David said. “The school boasts about how many resources they have and how students are really cared about, but when I saw the ridiculous amount of time I had to wait — it was clearly not working out.”

Daily Staff Reporters Hannah Mackay and Jared Dougall can be reached at mackayh@umich.edu and jdougall@umich.edu. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown challenges at all of us — including The Michigan Daily — but that hasn’t stopped our staff. We’re committed to reporting on the issues that matter most to the community where we live, learn and work. Your donations keep our journalism free and independent. You can support our work here.

For a weekly roundup of the best stories from The Michigan Daily, sign up for our newsletter here.