As the winter months quickly approach, many University students may begin to feel their moods darken as the weather gets drearier and schoolwork becomes more intense. During such times, mental health support services are in high demand. For many students, the first line of defense against mental health struggles is the University of Michigan’s Counseling and Psychological Services. However, as wait times for appointments reach upward of two weeks, it is clear CAPS may not be accessible to all students seeking assistance.
Many University students frequently criticize CAPS as ineffective, largely because of the long wait times. Services such as CAPS are deeply important to the University, and we encourage all students to seriously seek help if they need it. However, as students at the University, we feel there are fundamental and structural changes that CAPS must make in order to ensure that students are able to obtain the proper care.
For many students, the actual purpose of CAPS is unclear. They do not prescribe medications for mental illness, but rather serve as a resource for short-term talk therapy and can act as a pipeline to other services on campus. They mainly act a treatment center for acute issues and not for long-term, specialized care. However, the often prohibitively-long wait times do not reflect this aspect of providing care for short-term issues. Additionally, for many students on campus who may not have diagnosable mental disorders but regardless struggle with the demands of college life, talk therapy should certainly be prioritized over other treatment options such as medication. For this reason, they are an excellent resource for many University students. Yet the inability of CAPS to meet with students over a longer period of time is a hindrance to such individuals. The fact that they are unable to provide for such services with its current budget is understandable. However, CAPS should serve as a pipeline to other options for students in need of longer-term care. This can include services such as local therapists holding “office hours” to speak with students in need a few times a week, referrals to therapists in Michigan Medicine and access to professional therapists covered by insurance or with need-based aid.
With that in mind, it would be helpful to students if CAPS took action to amplify their outreach and expand their resources. Certain steps have been taken, including North Campus recently opening their own Wellness Zone, but there needs to be more available to students living on North beyond the sun lamps in this space. CAPS has also taken steps to create school-specific therapists for students on North Campus and beyond. This includes the implementation of “embedded” psychologists and social workers: At least one specialized and full-time counselor in each University school, including those on North Campus. CAPS now even has two counselors conveniently available for all students in the College of Engineering. While these school-specific counselors do help to increase the therapist-student ratio, there are more areas that need funding and resources.
While we acknowledge the work of CAPS with school-specific therapists and counselors for non-binary and trans individuals, CAPS should continue to expand resources so more students are more comfortable readily accessing them. Implementation of the CAPS Trans Care Team, a group of mental health care providers specifically trained in providing affirming care to trans and non-binary students, is a great step in the right direction. Unfortunately, long wait times and limited professional resources can still compel students to feel as if they cannot or should not seek adequate help. After all, knowing that there is scarce availability can make students hesitant to take those resources away from a fellow student who might “need it more.”
We acknowledge that CAPS on their own cannot simply revolutionize the current plan and implement new, radical programs. For that reason, the University should consider allocating more funding to CAPS so new ideas can be seen through and more staff can be hired. U-M’s budget for Counseling Services this year is nearly $3 million, a nearly $800,000-dollar decrease from that of the previous year. The University does not seem to have a lack of disposable income — the Michigan Union renovation, just one of many major campus construction projects, had a budget of $85.2 million. A new medical building is purported to cost U-M more than $900 million. It seems deeply illogical to cut funding to CAPS. There is an outstanding and chronic issue with mental health among students on campus, and U-M should recognize and respond to this demand for more mental health resources. It is arguably more important to have healthy, happy and treated students than a new, shiny building.
CAPS does a lot for our campus, but they could do a lot more and reach a much broader range of students if increased funding was poured into the program. While we do not want to negate the help they currently provide for thousands of students, we do challenge that this help is often temporary, and resources for long-term care often fall short. With the winter season steadily approaching, and as daylight continues to decline, we encourage better and more expansive mental health options and programming for students on campus.
If you or someone you know is in need of counseling and psychological services, CAPS can be reached at (734)-764-8312.