As we collectively face midterms, it has become increasingly clear that many students are experiencing burnout, pandemic fatigue and an increase in mental health issues. These issues can easily be compounded by the growing exposure of sexual misconduct spanning decades on campus, tension over COVID-19 policies and recurrent issues with landlords. While delineating the variety of stressors students are facing is important, it is also critical to analyze resources the University of Michigan provides and pressure the University to adequately support students who are struggling with stress and mental illness.
The University offers Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) for students dealing with mental health crises, but the program is limited. There is not a solidified framework for long-term help, as CAPS has a goal of ‘graduating’ students in 4 to 8 weeks. What’s more, the CAPS waiting list usually grows during high-stress times, meaning students can’t access help when they need it most. Since so many of students’ stressors stem from issues related to the University, the University has both the responsibility and the capability — with a $17 billion endowment — to establish an adequate support system.
Some students don’t have healthcare access outside of University Health Services, so they cannot receive therapy outside of the University. Other students have to consider leaving their regular therapists if they can no longer afford a copay for each session, but currently CAPS cannot substitute the depth and breadth involved in longer-term therapy programs offered by professionals. While short-term care is beneficial for some students, many students have chronic stress that cannot be resolved in 4 to 8 weeks. The University has not responded to this specific reality in a comprehensive and effective way. As of now, CAPS best serves as an intermediary step toward longer-term help.
However, for some students, having a longer-term relationship with CAPS could be beneficial; specifically, CAPS counselors have extensive experience with student issues and are accessible due to their on-campus location. Therefore, the University should explore programs that would allow students with the most need to continue to see CAPS counselors for a longer period of time.
University spokesperson Kim Broekhuizen discussed the status of CAPS and other mental health resources in an email to The Michigan Daily.
“CAPS has been adding counselors and other resources to their service offerings for several years now,” Broekhuizen wrote. “All of CAPS services are free to any student enrolled at U-M. The same is true for Wellness Coaching.”
She also shared data on the rates of individual counseling sessions. Of students who came to CAPS seeking counseling, 81.1% of students only received one to five sessions. Only 18.9% of cases received additional counseling, with only 0.7% of cases receiving over 21 sessions.
According to Broekhuizen, these 0.7% of cases often include students who “do not have any insurance or are underinsured or insurance is not provided in the state of Michigan … do not have transportation or schedules that allow for off campus referrals.” This small fraction of cases represents that, while some students are receiving long-term support, there should likely be an expansion of access for these types of cases.
Giving 31,000 students access to counselors certainly poses a challenge, but the University need not provide all 31,000 students comprehensive access. The University could provide special programs for students with demonstrated needs, such as financial or transportation-based needs. Additionally, funding longer-term mental health care for students could reduce the current strain on CAPS for acute mental health crises.
There are many ways the University could address these issues and make services more accessible to students. For instance, accessing health insurance is very difficult for many low-income students. An annual health insurance plan for domestic students through the University is $1,929, which is cost-prohibitive for many. Based on the University’s financial resources, there should be a strong system in place to ensure students who cannot afford health insurance are given the same access to care, whether that care includes three counseling sessions or thirty.
On Aug. 30, the University announced it is “launching comprehensive action to transform how the health and well-being needs of students can be holistically addressed.” The efforts recommended by the Student Mental Health Innovative Approaches Review committee includes creating a “comprehensive infrastructure of faculty, staff and students” to address the needs of all students, “strengthening the continuum of care” and ensuring resources are accessible and visible. While it is unclear when the recommendations suggested in the announcement will be implemented, it is a step in a positive direction. In addition to implementing these suggestions, the University could begin emphasizing physical health and wellbeing more.
Upon arriving at college for the first time, many are met with brand new levels of independence. For some, important day-to-day tasks such as cooking, cleaning or taking care of oneself in other ways may be unfamiliar. Additionally, some may come to campus already dealing with body image issues and unhealthy relationships with food.
That said, one step toward improving mental and physical health of students could include the University expanding programs aimed at helping students afford food. Increasing awareness of the Maize and Blue Cupboard would help students experiencing food insecurity. Financial instability, as well as many other factors, can exacerbate mental health issues, so the University’s approach must consider them in mental health services and policy. Taking these proactive steps toward increasing access and awareness to services, whether it be programs to aid basic needs or support mental health issues, will improve and benefit students and the campus as a whole.
Ultimately, students at the University of Michigan are struggling with a variety of issues related to the institution itself, COVID-19, worsening mental health and financial burdens. To better support students, the University’s administration must form a longer-term care infrastructure within CAPS, as well as additional support for students regarding nutrition education, food insecurity, financial instability and general wellness.