Victoria Noble: Go to CAPS

By Victoria Noble, Columnist
Published February 1, 2015

Walking along State Street the other day, I noticed a bright big banner proudly displayed above the steps to the Michigan Union, advertising — for lack of a better term — the Counseling and Psychological Services center. Glancing up at the sign, I remembered the first time I had gone to CAPS earlier this year.

I had decided I probably needed to see someone long before I actually called to make an appointment. A bunch of ridiculous, though probably common, fears prevented that initial phone call. What if my friends see me walk in there? What if this appointment shows up on my academic records? (It doesn’t, by the way.)

But mostly, I was preoccupied with what I thought registering for a CAPS appointment meant — that I couldn’t take care of my problems on my own; that I had a problem to take care of in the first place; that something about me was abnormal, problematic and in need of fixing.

Ironically, these were not concerns of mine when I went to the doctor to get antibiotics for a sinus infection or to the dermatologist for a skin check.

So instead of making an appointment when I knew that I probably should have, I waited until seeking help was pretty much necessary to deal with the stress that had accumulated as a result of harder sophomore classes and involvement in several organizations. And while I had done my best to keep all of this to myself, I finally told my mom what had been going on. She suggested that I “go talk to someone about it.” Eventually, I did.

It didn’t take long for the psychiatrist to figure out what was going on. She identified my sometimes-inability to get work done, sit through lectures and stay on task as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder — something I had been told before but didn’t want to hear.

I didn’t like the idea of a mental health “disorder,” and I didn’t really see the connection between stereotypical images of disruptive, struggling 10-year-olds and my high GPA. One of the most helpful things CAPS did was help me challenge the negative picture I had developed about mental health issues and their treatment. A major focus of subsequent sessions at CAPS centered on the positive aspects of ADHD.

Recently, I came across a cover letter I had written earlier that fall. I recognized many of the self-identified “strengths” — quick thinking, problem solving skills, creativity — that I mentioned in the letter as some of the positive aspects that the CAPS worker had mentioned. Growing up in a culture that labels mental health disorders as a mark of abnormality, I had never thought to consider that there might be accompanying attributes as well.

Eventually, that first CAPS appointment led to an effective treatment plan and a reduction of many of the issues that had brought me there in the first place. To say I’m glad I went is an understatement … but at first I didn’t want to, and absent encouragement from my family, I probably wouldn’t have.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 19.6 percent of adults ages 18 to 25 had a mental illness in the United States in 2012. If your eyes are blue or green, it’s more likely that any given student your age has a mental illness than shares your eye color. But despite its prevalence, mental health issues aren’t among the things that most people — including myself — are comfortable talking about. There is still so much judgment, stereotyping and negativity surrounding mental health illnesses and their treatment.

Which is exactly why I decided to write this column. I know that some people reading this column might view me differently once they’re done. But, despite that, many, many students could benefit from mental health care even though it’s rarely talked about in social situations. I know that I don’t talk about it with most of my friends. I also know that many of them have, at one time or another, really needed someone to talk to about the plethora of pressures that come with being a student at such a difficult, oftentimes competitive school.

And because so many of us don’t talk about mental health, it’s easy to presume that it isn’t an issue that affects a significant number of students. So if you think you might benefit from an appointment at CAPS, please make one. It’s not a sign of weakness, lack of capability or abnormality — it’s a resource. And though they may not want to discuss it, many of your peers are using it, too.

Victoria Noble can be reached at vjnoble@umich.edu.