On The Front Lines: Mental health resources must be held to higher standards
When it comes to mental health initiatives at Rutgers, any faculty, administrator or student leader can immediately point you toward several different resources — the Counseling, Alcohol and Other Drug Assistance Program & Psychiatric Services (CAPS), Health Outreach, Promotion and Education (H.O.P.E), Rutgers-Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance (VPVA) or the Office of Disability Services (ODS).
One of the most recognized and cited of these organizations is CAPS, which offers services ranging from group therapy to individual sessions. CAPS offers therapists, psychiatrists, short-talk sessions and crisis intervention. But when it comes to actually remedying students suffering with serious mental illnesses, Rutgers might be lacking overall.
Supplying students with centers like CAPS is very different from aiding students and helping them cope. CAPS offers therapy sessions for illnesses such as depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder and more.
This practice results in inconsequential and even harmful therapy. For example, rather than practicing long-term talk therapy with a patient, therapists encourage patients to practice exposure therapy or other short-term techniques. This is not always beneficial for the patient, yet it is used anyway. In most cases, it takes more than two months to change a life-altering mental illness such as depression, anxiety or OCD. But every patient is different, and requires different treatment. Resorting to the quickest fix should not be a professional practice.
Additionally, CAPS is often overbooked and understaffed. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “One in four young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 have a diagnosable mental illness.” Especially during exam season, there are not enough therapists or counselors available. Countless times, students are turned away because of unavailability. While CAPS makes themselves readily available to speak over the phone, it is often not enough. Students cannot always afford to turn to expensive outside therapists. Rutgers Student Affairs administrators must invest in higher budgets and higher standards for student mental health.
As much as Rutgers prides itself on promoting mental health initiatives, we as a community tend to ignore the fact that those promoting these facilities might be the ones who need it most. In other words, student leaders and staff are under immense pressure, and many are suffering through mental illnesses. We neglect their needs and forget that many leaders need accessible disability and illness services as well. We cannot forget that student leaders in Residence Life and Student Affairs, as well as staff members, are human too.
Everyone can benefit from counseling or therapy in some way. It is often seen as a leader’s job to direct those who look to them for guidance toward resources such as CAPS. But we need to enforce a culture that helps leaders and staff support each other, encouraging mental health improvement for all. Making mental health resources accessible and normalized for everyone is heavily neglected.
Understaffed resources and low-budgeted techniques, combined with ignorance of those in need, result in a poor mental health system at Rutgers. Mental health is something that needs to be taken more seriously, especially in a college environment with a large population. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, almost 20 percent of the population is affected by some sort of anxiety disorder, but “only 36.9 percent of those suffering receive treatment.” According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America. With an average of 129 suicides per day and 1,300,000 estimated attempts in 2017, mental health is not a topic to be taken lightly. Rutgers needs to invest and do all it can to prevent severe mental health cases and help those in need.
Is it enough for Rutgers to simply provide these resources without actually providing quality, helpful improvement?
Editor's Note: A previous version of this article stated that therapy sessions are limited to approximately 10 free sessions. CAPS does not have a session limit. Individualized Action Plans are made and reassessments are given as necessary.
Priyanka Bansal is a Rutgers Business School junior double majoring in business and journalism and media studies. She is an editorial assistant at The Daily Targum.
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