This week, three University of Michigan counseling offices announced a new joint campaign to increase awareness of and access to mental health services for students, faculty and staff. The University’s Counseling and Psychological Services, Faculty and Staff Counseling and Consultation Office and Michigan Medicine Office of Counseling and Workplace Resilience now provide counseling to the majority of the campus community free of cost.
The joint campaign’s ethos is “Whether you or someone you know is struggling, there are counseling services available to everyone at the university … We’re here for you.” U-M mental health service providers also expressed the hope that this campaign will open up the campus to new conversations about mental and emotional health.
As students, our mental health care falls under the guidance of CAPS. Mental health on college campuses is a critical issue. A 2016-17 report from Healthy Minds, a national network that surveys the mental health of U.S. college students, shows 31 percent of students have depression, 31 percent have elevated levels of generalized anxiety and 11 percent have had suicidal ideation in the past year. Suicide is the second leading killer of Americans ages 10-34. These alarming statistics highlight the need for comprehensive mental health services on college campuses.
We applaud CAPS and other campus organizations for attempting to bring more awareness to the available mental health resources for students. One resource we would particularly like to see this joint campaign promote is the embedded counselor program run through CAPS. While many students may not be aware of it, 13 U-M units, such as the College of Engineering and the School of Public Health have their own dedicated mental health provider available to students. These embedded counselors have their offices not in the main CAPS space but in the academic unit itself. For instance, an Engineering student would be able to see their embedded counselor at their office on North Campus. The embedded model was actually started in four of the North Campus colleges in 2014 and we feel that, despite the general lack of awareness among students, this is a good model. CAPS would do well to highlight their embedded counselors and expand the program to other academic units such as LSA, which does not currently have its own.
CAPS has developed a bad reputation among some University students owing to long wait times and feeling that students are not getting the help they need. While we hear these concerns and will continue to urge CAPS to cut down wait times, we also must acknowledge CAPS is meant to serve as a first-step on the road to good mental health and not the cure-all some students may expect it to be.
While we endorse this new awareness campaign, we also call on CAPS to improve their services. As previously mentioned, long waits are a serious barrier to students wishing to access care. We also have concerns with stories of students feeling forced away from CAPS and toward community providers. While we recognize CAPS operates under a short-term treatment model and it may not be able to provide the specialized care needed to address some mental health problems such as eating disorders, pushing students toward community providers presents problems of access. Unlike CAPS, community providers can be prohibitively expensive without good health insurance and many students without a car could have a hard time traveling to appointments.
We encourage CAPS to explore innovative solutions to improve access to mental health services among the student population. Potential options could include a fully staffed CAPS office on North Campus and providing teletherapy as an alternative to in-person counseling. The joint campaign should also promote Wolverine Wellness and the Wolverine Support Network, two non-CAPS mental health interventions.
The joint awareness campaign initiated by three of the University’s counseling offices is a step in the right direction. However, promoting resources without actively working to improve them would be a wasted opportunity.
Correction: The original version of this article noted that the Ford School of Public Policy was part of the embedded model program and had an embedded counselor in Weil Hall. The Ford School has a CAPS liason but does not have an embedded counselor in their building. The article has been updated to reflect this.