With a single click on the University’s gateway website, a list of 25 mental health treatment centers, student support groups, student organizations and web resources appear.
PART 2 OF 3: MENTAL HEALTH ON CAMPUS
• Part 1: Experts mull trend of mental health issues among students
Though the list may look complete, the University is still trying to find the right balance of services to effectively accommodate students’ mental health needs. Daniel Eisenberg, an associate professor in the School of Public Health, is leading a team on the Healthy Minds Study that is working to find that balance.
The HMS is an annual national survey that explores the prevalence of depression, anxiety and eating disorders among college students and examines how many students seek treatment for these conditions. The survey is a collaboration between researchers from the School of Public Health, the University’s Depression Center and the Department of Psychiatry within the University of Michigan Health System.
Eisenberg and other researchers working on the study concluded that even when students have access to free psychotherapy and health services, they usually do not take advantage of these resources. Proposed explanations for the findings include the lack of knowledge among students of the services provided, skepticism about the effectiveness of treatment and cultural barriers.
Eisenberg said while these issues are not unique to college students, the nature of a college campus makes it an ideal place to study political causes.
“That’s exactly what got me so interested in this area of study,” he said. “Not so much the idea that college students have a disproportionate amount of mental health problems, but it’s more the opportunity that seems to be there to have a positive influence on mental health and the fact that there are so many channels to reach students and have positive effects.”
Eisenberg distinguished two major strategies to reach students struggling with these mental health issues — individual interventions and public health interventions.
More is known about the effectiveness of individual interventions like medication and psychotherapy, both of which have proved to be effective treatment options for depression and anxiety, Eisenberg said. He added that public health interventions, which are aimed at a larger student population and focus on preventative treatment and screenings, haven’t been extensively examined within college settings.
For University students, both options are readily accessible.
The University’s Counseling and Psychological Services office offers therapeutic support, and the Department of Psychiatry and the Depression Center have clinical treatment available. Other support programs on campus exist through the Career Center, the Dean of Students Office, the Spectrum Center and University Housing Residence Hall Programs and Services. And if none of these help students, there are more than 15 other resources for students to choose from.
Students will also have one more option starting next week when CAPS opens its new Wellness Zone. Located on the third floor of the Michigan Union, the new facility will feature tools for relaxation like massage chairs, a Seasonal Affective Disorder lamp, stress reduction programs and yoga and meditation instruction.
Todd Sevig, the director of CAPS, said having so many resources is inevitable at a large University like this, but it’s important to make sure each one plays a unique role on campus.
While some may find it inefficient and overwhelming to have so many options available for mental health treatment, Vicky Hayes, an associate director of CAPS, said she thinks having a diverse range of options is important.
“I think the plus side of the decentralization is maybe getting to an option that feels like a good fit,” Hayes said.
Though students may pursue any avenue of help they feel best suits their needs, Sevig said he hopes CAPS, which is free for students, is the most accessible student-friendly mental health organization on campus.”
Unlike other on-campus mental health sites like the Depression Center or the Department of Psychiatry, CAPS is strictly devoted to addressing the needs of University students.
In order to make it easier for students to relate to their counselors, Sevig said CAPS has a staff that is diverse in age, race and gender, which he said is especially important for students who come from cultures that don’t traditionally deal with mental health issues.
Hayes, who directs a counselor training program for graduate students, said there are currently 15 students from different parts of the country on this year’s staff. Many of them are in their early 20s and can better relate to students than the other staff members, she said.
Additionally, CAPS currently has five staff members who were born and raised in different countries, according to Sevig.
“Out of these 40 or so people doing counseling, we can offer a wide diversity that doesn’t exist … anywhere in Ann Arbor,” he said.
According to the CAPS 2009-2010 annual report, the demographic of students who use the office’s services matches that of the greater student population. Last school year, 3,362 students sought services from CAPS, and the year before, 3,127 students received treatment from CAPS, according to the report.
Eisenberg said his goal is to make sure students who seek that support get the best help possible for their specific needs.
“That’s kind of my overall agenda,” Eisenberg said. “My research is to try to get more information to sort of help us say what is the optimal mix of interventions.”