Madi Kingsbury For the Arizona Daily Star
With a large increase in students seeking mental health resources, the University of Arizona’s Center for Counseling and Psychiatric Services has grown to meet the need.
During a year of virtual learning during the pandemic, many students struggled to adjust. For others, the return to in-person learning proved challenging.
There have been several student suicides, and in early October, Professor Thomas Meixner was shot to death on campus; a former student is accused of murder.
After the Meixner shooting on Oct. 5, there was a 23.5% increase in students seeking mental health services compared to the week before, Director of Counseling and Psych Services Aaron Barnes said.
For the entire Fall 2022 semester, CAPS saw a 60% increase in students seeking crisis care.
Counseling and Psychology Services have increased the number of students they can see, as well as the number of staff. CAPS sees roughly 1,500 students a month, but the number fluctuates, said assessment manager Rachel Abraham.
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“In 2019, our staff was about 40 people, but now it’s grown to 70,” Barnes said.
The recent addition of crisis counselors on campus means students now have immediate access to care, said UA Provost Liesl Folks.
University officials are working alongside CAPS to ensure the well-being of students and understand that mental health is a huge aspect of academic success, Folks said.
“Providing support services, including mental health resources, remains a high priority,” she said. “We know that students’ academic success depends not only on academic support, but also on ensuring they have access to services that help meet their overall physical and mental well-being needs.”
Urgent care style
Barnes listens to student feedback and has worked to change the direction of the university’s mental health services.
The old model of services, which began with a triage assessment, was unpopular with students and faculty. After the initial triage, the student would be rescheduled, and often with a different counselor than the one they started with. That wasn’t providing the best quality care for students, so Barnes looked for a more helpful model.
As of 2019, the old model has been replaced with one that better meets the needs of students and is more of an urgent care style, according to Barnes, who said it’s more about letting students have a say in treatment. theirs to be sure. it’s the right fit. Now, students can schedule their appointment online and choose the advisor that best suits their needs.
“A core part of our services is making sure that every student who needs counseling, they get counseling,” Barnes said.
There are some limitations to continuing to expand the services that CAPS can provide. These include money as well as space.
With the large increase in staff in a short time and limited space in the building, many people are sharing offices. Additional counselors have been placed in other campus cultural centers to maximize space and provide more care.
‘We’ll find a way’ to overcome cost barriers
CAPS receives additional funding from various grants, but Barnes said it just isn’t enough.
“My dream is to provide free services, but at the end of the day it’s a cost to us,” he said.
Barriers to students seeking help include concerns about insurance coverage, financial stress, and the inability to secure a timely appointment. Barnes said CAPS has options for students seeking services who are concerned about cost.
“Cost should never be a reason a student can’t come to care at CAPS because we will find a way,” Barnes said.
However, he acknowledges that CAPS and its services may not be a perfect fit for all students.
UA psychology major Kimberly Hay considered therapy through CAPS in November 2021, but ultimately decided it wouldn’t work for her.
“After the initial consultation, I didn’t feel confident that I would be able to get the care I needed,” Hay said, adding that she was also concerned about the cost, since her insurance was not accepted by the center. “I would like to see them add more psychiatric services in the future. This would provide students with the care they need on a whole other level.”
Barnes said he and the rest of the team are on the side of the students and that it’s easier to move things along when students are advocating for change and resources. CAPS’ new operating model began with a student focus group, he said.
“Student voices influence our work here, and I want the university to stand out and be a premier when it comes to health care,” Barnes said. “I think we’re going to make it because of the students.”
Madi Kingsbury is a journalism student at the University of Arizona.