June 26, 2019 | 87° F

Number of intake appointments at CAPS jumps 5.5 percent

Photo by Yosef Serkez |

The number of students utilizing the resources offered by CAPS has increased dramatically over the course of the last year, with more than 4,000 students making appointments. Attendance for group sessions has also increased by 16 percent.

The demand for mental health services on college campuses has increased in recent years, according to a USA Today College article.

According to the 2014-2015 report from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health, as cited in the article, between 2009 and 2015 college enrollment rose by 5.6%, the number of students seeking mental health services rose by 29.6% and the number actually attending appointments went up by 38.4%.

Every year the Center for Counseling, Alcohol and Other Drug Assistance Program and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) at Rutgers is also tasked with an ever increasing influx of students requesting mental health services, said Keisha Dabrowski, special assistant to the vice chancellor at Rutgers.

“In the 2016-2017 academic year, CAPS offered nearly 30,000 visits serving over 4,000 students. Group visits increased by 16 percent over the previous academic year, initial screening sessions with students increased by 5.5 percent as did the number of individual counseling visits,” Dabrowski said in an email.

In order to accommodate the increasing student load, CAPS has launched many new programs, such as the Meso Practice, a diverse hiring process, increased outreach efforts and an online scheduling process for initial screenings, she said.

The Meso Practice is a program launched this semester at Rutgers—New Brunswick. It entails counselors being embedded in different locations around campus at specific times, so they get a complete understanding of the community they now live and work in. There will be 10 drop-in locations available this year, which can be found on the CAPS website, Dabrowski said.

The Meso counselors offer drop-in workshops named "Let’s Talk," which focus on individual intervention and consultation for faculty, staff, students and student groups. They also combat the stigma associated with seeking help for mental health issues, as the counselors are located directly in the community rather than being more isolated within a mental health facility, she said.

“Now students have another option. Let’s say they don’t exactly think they need therapy or they just want to test it out and they just need to talk to someone, now they have the 'Let’s Talk' programs,” said Christie Schweighardt, student body vice president and School of Planning and Public Policy senior.

This program and others were developed and implemented over the course of the summer, after the findings of the Rutgers University Student Assembly (RUSA) Mental Health Task Force last spring, Schweighardt said.

Dabrowski said that another update that CAPS implemented is a new hiring process focused on diversity and involving students in that process.

“I sat in on a few interviews and it was really important in making sure the staff is diverse, that they have different life experiences and have experience in helping different kinds of people,” Schweighardt said.

CAPS wanted to ensure the staff was not only diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and language, but also in terms of life experiences, she said.

For example, one counselor had experience with relationship counseling. People usually focus on the big picture when talking about mental health, but when broken down, something like relationship counseling is really important on college campuses because a lot of problems come from relationships with other people, Schweighardt said.

CAPS hired two new Meso counselors and two new clinical psychologists this summer. The new counselors and increased diversity on staff are also expected to assist with the increased number of students seeking help and with making students feel more comfortable while seeking help, she said.

In another notable change, this year marks the start of CAPS offering online scheduling for initial screenings, Dabrowski said.

“We have just started to pilot the use of online scheduling for the initial screening conversation with a counselor and so far this is going well. Students can access online scheduling through the Rutgers Student Health Portal,” she said.

Schweighardt said that online scheduling is available to individuals who have never made an appointment with CAPS before and who are interested in an initial screening with a counselor. This makes it easier to begin getting help, a process that can seem daunting to some due to stigma surrounding mental health care.

“It can be daunting to call and talk about mental health, so if you can just click a button it makes people feel better,” Schweighardt said.

This combination of new programs and practices will work together to better reach out to communities and students in need and to fight stigma that may be preventing people from pursuing mental health care, she said.

Schweighardt said that CAPS is available to provide any type of support, including support for events and issues that happen off campus.

“They really care about showing that CAPS is there for anything," she said. "You don’t need to have depression or anxiety, it could just be that an event happens and you need to talk to somebody."

Ryan Stiesi

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