The Counseling and Psychiatric Services center, located within the University Health Center is often students’ first line of defense when it comes to mental health and wellness.
But with overwhelming numbers of patients and limited resources, some students are finding that first line of defense to be insufficient for their needs.
Defining a crisis
While interim director Ash Thompson said wait times are about two weeks for an appointment at CAPS, there are always crisis walk-in hours when a specific clinician is assigned to see patients. Additionally, there is a CAPS clinician available 24/7 all year to answer calls that come through the UGA police.
But the issue is that when it comes to defining a crisis situation, it is up to a student’s perspective.
“A walk-in is supposed to be an emergency, but we will see anyone who walks in and says they need to be seen right away,” Thompson said. “That may be briefly, but once we figure out why they are here, we can do that phone screening in person and assess the emergent nature of it. Based on that we can makes some recommendations about what has to happen next.”
For walk-ins, Thompson said they watch and manage the wait times, which range from about 20 minutes to an hour on the high-end, closely. If someone is walking in, he said CAPS recognizes the need to get an assessment moving quickly.
After experiencing mental-health related issues for multiple days, Lisa Fu said a professor suggested going to CAPS. She went during crisis walk-in hours, but was told to take an online assessment when she arrived.
“When someone tells you ‘Here are written instructions, go take the online assessment in the room over there,’ the first thing someone in a crisis is going to want to do is turn around and leave,” said Fu, a freshman journalism and economics double major from Alpharetta. “Filling out paperwork and taking an online assessment if someone is actually in a crisis is probably the most discouraging and off-putting thing you could encounter.”
Fu was able to see a clinician but found that her situation was not necessarily what they might consider a crisis.
“The problem is that you can get in an in-between place where you feel really bad and can't really function, but you are not so far gone that you are a danger to society or to yourself," Fu said.
Fu had previously tried making an appointment with CAPS but was delayed because of challenges with her previous clinician's office transferring paperwork. While Fu said it was a delay on the end of her previous provider, she saw all of the transfer paperwork as a deterrent.
“The problem is that most people who are having a hard time don’t want to jump through all of these hoops because they already feel like they are hopeless,” she said. “There is still a huge stigma attached to mental illness, so it is easier for a lot of people to look at CAPS, realize how many steps they need to take to get into CAPS and say that is not worth my time or their time, and I feel like I am just not going to get help at all, which is dangerous.”
Fu said CAPS was upfront with her about scheduling and said that she would not be able to see a clinician every week and might be better served at another resource if her needs were greater.
Edward Delgado-Romero, the graduate coordinator in the Department of Counseling and Human Development Services, said defining student needs is always relative and challenging.
“If someone is coming into the center for test anxiety, you never want to say ‘we can’t see you because your problem isn’t bad enough.’ You want to balance the need to attend to crisis with the needs of people who may not be in a crisis but whose problems may be very stressful,” he said.
For students who may not be able to get what they need from CAPS, the next step becomes referring them elsewhere, and Thompson said they keep an updated list of local clinicians who meet accreditation standards.
“We do make referrals and sometimes we make referrals in order to manage the demand for our services so we can continue to provide for those in immediate need,” he said.
Of students receiving initial phone screenings at CAPS, approximately 13 percent of people were referred out at that time. And between Jan. 1 and Oct. 31 of 2014, Thompson said 545 students were referred to another agency or clinician for one reason or another.
Thompson also said that approximately 26 percent of urgent initial visits resulted in a referral to another agency or clinician, as those individuals required more extensive assistance.
One place individuals may be referred to is the Center for Counseling in the College of Education, which Director Linda Campbell said serves people from the community for low fees.
Unlike CAPS, the Center for Counseling does not have a salaried staff and is instead a training clinic for doctoral and masters students. Because of this, their center does not have any wait times, except for in the case of screenings for learning disabilities.
“Most of the clients that CAPS refers to us are those who need longer term care than a university center can provide because they are operating on a budget from the University and only have a certain number of psychologists, meaning students can’t really have unlimited sessions,” Campbell said.
The Center for Counseling works on a sliding fee scale based on individuals’ income and for most clients that fee is $10.
“We work well with CAPS because they do a good job with students who fit into what their resources can provide, and because we charge a low fee and our training students are there all year long, we don’t really have the problem of someone needing more sessions than we can provide,” Campbell said.
Victoria Glover, a junior psychology and human development major from Cordele, said she uses the College of Education services now after first trying CAPS and has been happy with the diversity of clinicians and the services at the Center for Counseling.
Lesley Cobbs, the counseling advocate at Nuci’s Space — a support and resource center for musicians, said mental health resources available in Athens are probably better than average. Among Athens counselors, she said the environment is very collaborative and positive.
While the number of available services out there is positive, Delgado-Romero said it can come with challenges. CAPS, he said, must serve a leadership role.
“The advantages are there are a lot of people who are experts in different things,” he said. “But the disadvantage is that sometimes students are not aware of all of the different resources that are out there because there is not better communication amongst these groups.”
This is part two of a two-part series looking at the state of mental health resources on UGA’s campus.