PASCIAK: Make CAPS more accessible for students

The University should reform CAPS to make them more accessible for all students

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While U.Va. does have resources intended to serve students who both need and are seeking aid, reform is needed in order to better serve these members of our community.

John Pappas | Cavalier Daily

Mental health is an increasingly serious issue among college-aged individuals. Nearly one-third of college freshmen report feeling overwhelmed during their time at school. Considering the University's rigor as one of the nation’s top public colleges, it should be no surprise that there is a rise in students seeking mental health aid in recent years. While U.Va. does have resources intended to serve students who both need and are seeking aid, reform is needed in order to better serve these members of our community.

At the University,Counseling and Psychological Services is the “the primary student counseling clinic on Grounds.” The cost of using the service, moreover, is covered in the comprehensive student fee, so all students are able to use it at no additional charge. Because of this, CAPS is often the main resource presented to students seeking help with their mental health. However, CAPS also has many accessibility issues, which in turn makes many students may feel as if they have no resource to turn to.  

Currently, in order to make an appointment with CAPS, students must call the CAPS phone number and undergo a brief screening before they are able to schedule an appointment. Unfortunately, requiring students to call the CAPS phone number to schedule an appointment poses as a serious obstacle for many students seeking help. This is because anxiety is reported as the main mental health concern in college and for these students, it can be difficult to even make the first step towards reaching out to CAPS over the phone. Students with anxiety often find it difficult opening up to new people, so forcing them to undergo this screening with a stranger through a phone call would likely only add to the anxiety they have about scheduling the appointment. Because of these concerns, the University must change the way appointment scheduling works to make CAPS more accessible for students with anxiety. The University needs to better encourage students with issues to seek help, and changing the way appointments are scheduled would be a step in the right direction.

For many student health appointments, the University allows students to use Healthy Hoos, an online source for scheduling appointments for physical health issues, without any need to call Student Health Services. The University should use a similar online resource for CAPS. This would provide students struggling with mental health issues with a more accessible means of scheduling counseling appointments. 

The University should also work on expanding CAPS, allowing for the hiring of more trained professionals to accommodate for the increasing need for mental health services at the University in recent years. Students sometimes need to wait days in order to find an appointment time that is both available and works with their schedule, and this lack of availability of trained professionals will only worsen with the increasing demand for the services.

Moreover, the University should also work towards establishing other locations for mental health related services on Grounds. While the location in the Elson Student Health Center provides accessibility for some students, a location on central Grounds would better serve students and provide greater accessibility for students seeking help. Mental health issues can often lead to some feeling a lack of motivation to seek help, even if it is badly needed. Offering locations in offices in spaces in Newcomb Hall or adding spaces for CAPS representatives in Housing and Residence Life office, for example, would bring this essential resource a little closer to students than the Student Health Center next to Nau Hall. 

Mental health is a growing concern on college campuses. While the University does provide some resources for students suffering from issues with their mental health, greater accommodations can and must be made to better serve students in need. Creating greater accessibility to these services will enable students to better address these issues affecting them. Most importantly, it will provide all students the resources necessary to pursue an education with improved mental health.

Zack Pasciak is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com.

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