This is the third installment of a three-part series investigating student mental health at the University of Michigan. The Daily interviewed students on campus, students across the country and prominent leaders of mental health to contribute to this series. In part one and part two, The Daily examined student struggles with CAPS counseling services and their usage of alternative mental health resources on campus.
The Daily previously reported on mental health services and alternative resources that have emerged at the University of Michigan. However, student frustrations with wellness resources are not unique to campus, as many universities across the country are struggling to provide adequate service in response to increasing demand.
The Daily completed an analysis of the mental health resources at schools comparable to the University, finding that the University and other schools are working together to improve these programs.
At Michigan State University, wait times for Counseling and Psychological Services are typically under two hours. The University of California, Berkeley offers a vast array of mental-health promotion clubs. While many universities have different resources and ideas for improving mental health, U-M CAPS Director Todd Sevig said the University is a role model when it comes to mental health at college campuses.
“We’ve had a lot of successes at CAPS,” Sevig said. “People around the country kind of copy what we do.”
Michigan State University’s Counseling and Psychological Services offer slightly different services than University of Michigan’s. For example, instead of booking appointments in advance, they primarily offer walk-in appointments for initial consultation.
MSU CAPS Director Matt Patishnock said their counselors try to fit in as many students as possible every day to match their students’ expectations.
“As part of our counseling services, we offer a same-day access for any student for any issue every day,” Patishnock said. “On any given day, 50 students walk in without an appointment and they either get a brief consultation or routine screening or crisis appointment. Then there’s the continuity of care expectations meaning that the commissions here that screen that student will keep them here if we can. That’s a significant part of our resources for students.”
According to MSU CAPS’ website, initial visits take anywhere from 90 to 120 minutes, including paperwork and waiting room time. MSU freshman Lily Callis said the walk-in appointments made it easy for her to find access to care right away at MSU CAPS.
“The walk-in is very helpful when someone is having a crisis and I think that’s very helpful to have on campus,” Callis said. “They typically refer a lot of students to outside campus help since there’s so many students.”
MSU CAPS offers referrals to resources outside of its own services, including hospitals, therapists and other mental health professionals in the East Lansing area MSU has staff members assign students with these resources and ensure they are safe. Patishnock said he sees this as a solution to the drastic increase of students seeking mental health services at MSU CAPS in recent years.
“Given the total increase in the number of counselors we had, we’ve had to refer out a significant number of students to the local community,” Patishnock said. “We’ve hired a full-time referral coordinator and social worker who meets with students all day long and helps them get connected into the community as opposed to just giving them information to make sure they don’t get lost.”
At the University of Michigan, CAPS prefers to keep students within their counseling center for mental health issues that can be solved for short-term counseling. The CAPS annual report showed more than 73 percent of clients attended five or fewer sessions in the 2018-19 school year.
Since U-M CAPS is not designed for long-term mental health support, less than 1 percent of students receive more than 20 appointments.
According to Sevig, CAPS has one care manager who places students with resources outside of the organization which they can access for long-term use.
“One thing we started — and we were the first in the country to do this — (is) we have a care manager,” Sevig said. “So we developed one person, and now we have two full-time people, to help with referrals that take a little work.”
Emphasis on referring to East Lansing professionals also impacts the goal of students visiting MSU CAPS. According to The State News, MSU CAPS only offers students three free appointments, after which appointments must be covered by insurance or out of the student’s pocket. U-M CAPS, in contrast, never charges students and offers free counseling indefinitely for those with extenuating circumstances that prevent them from finding appropriate, outside long-term care.
Sevig said U-M CAPS’ efforts to provide medium and longer-term service without charging students means it cannot base its appointment model on walk-ins like MSU CAPS. The report showed about 26 percent of patients saw CAPS for six or more sessions last school year.
CAPS can offer longer treatment for students who are experiencing a complex reaction to a traumatic event, are uninsured or do not have transportation to off-campus referrals. Sevig said the average number of sessions is four to five, but it is important to continuously make appointments available.
“We’ll see the person,” Sevig said. “We’ll do it whenever we can. Our staff will do extra to fit students in, but I would like to, on a systemic level, increase our ongoing work to do more than average.”
While students have complained about the inadequacy of CAPS at the University, many schools look to U-M services as a model to improve their own programs. Patishnock said Sevig has been helping MSU develop their CAPS service, which has been around for less than two years.
“We have 29 full-time counselors,” Patishnock said. “I understand the University of Michigan has even more counselors per student. We’re trying to get ourselves about even with where you guys are.”
Big Ten Conference and Okanagan Charter
The University is not alone in its efforts to improve mental health. Representatives from CAPS attend the yearly Big Ten Counseling Centers Convention to exchange ideas with similar-sized schools. According to Sevig, the idea for embedded counselors — a branch of professionals from CAPS who specialize in the culture and students of different colleges throughout the University — came from Northwestern University and the University of Iowa.
“It was really radical because in our profession, we have this idea that you have to come to us,” Sevig said. “So I waited for them to implement it for a year, and it was still working really well there. Then I wrote up this model for seven of our staff to be with the four schools on North Campus and three of the professional schools on Central Campus and it all got funded.”
The University is not a member of the Okanagan Charter, an international charter for health-promoting universities and colleges aimed at promoting overall well-being on campus. However, Wolverine Wellness Director Mary Jo Desprez said the charter guides many of the University’s efforts on mental health. The University is currently working on becoming a member, which includes a sign-on from President Mark Schlissel.
To illustrate how the Charter’s framework could improve day-to-day practices, Desprez gave the example of a professor who can choose between setting a paper deadline at midnight or at six o’clock in the morning. While the six o’clock deadline gives students more time, she said many students would stay up all night writing.
“There’s no reason the paper can’t be due at three o’clock in the afternoon,” Desprez said. “That is a way a faculty member can contribute to the health and well-being of the community just based on one small change.”
During freshman orientation, the Educational Theater Company performances mention CAPS and include a presentation for parents as well. However, many students told The Daily they are unaware of how they can make an appointment with CAPS and how to get to their office. LSA sophomore Eva Schwarz told The Daily that finding out how to make an appointment was more difficult than making the actual appointment.
“I went to make an appointment and it took a lot of navigating, figure out how to watch a video and then the video, people acting out like a scene and then it finally tells you how to make your appointment, which you can’t even do online,” Schwarz said. “To me, it seems like such an ordeal to go through the process of trying to use the University’s resources.”
Schwarz did not remember the information from orientation, raising concerns if it actually sticks with students.
In contrast, Ben Crino, Western Michigan University sophomore, told The Daily that WMU tells students about their mental health resources and how they work during orientation. Unlike the University students interviewed, he remembered this information.
“I did my orientation a month before school started and they take you right to the building, then they take you inside and they take you to one of the rooms,” Crino said. “They take your whole group like a tour, but they make sure to really cover that place. You know where it is on campus, you know what it looks like and you know how to (make an appointment).”
When asked if the University was aware that students felt they did not retain information presented about CAPS during orientation, Sevig said he would be open to working on ways to make the information more prevalent. He said he would be interested in making a CAPS office stop as part of the campus tour like Western Michigan does.
“I think that’s a great idea,” Sevig said. “We’d be happy to do it.”
Wellness Clubs at Other Universities
Student efforts to improve the well-being on campus are also not unique to Ann Arbor, as examples of like-minded organizations can be found across the country.
For example, Northwestern University’s Happiness Club “encourages and facilitates random acts of kindness … creating moments that lead those involved to think, ‘That just made my day!’” according to the organization’s website.
The University of California, Berkeley, often ranked as a top public university along with the University of Michigan, is home to mental health promotion clubs like You Mean More, De-Stress with Dogs and Art & Mind.
Akash Rathod, a freshman at the University of California, Berkeley, said he is grateful for the student support at the highly competitive school. He recently attended a session for the Berkeley University Health Services nutrition team focusing on the intersection of healthy food and well-being. Rathod said he believes having wellness clubs is important to students prioritizing their mental health.
“I think the organizations have had a positive impact,” Rathod said. “A lot of students that need the help and were previously not getting the help are getting more resources and are in a better position now.”
Correction: This article previously stated the University of Michigan is a part of the Okanagan Charter. In actuality, the University is not yet a member and is currently working towards membership.