There has been a surge of student demand for counseling at CAPS this semester, and this week was the first time this semester that every single available slot for individual counseling was full, a situation CAPS will be moving to address by hiring some extra therapists.
Dr. David Ramirez, head of CAPS, explained that “last week the reality was that we were having trouble matching students with appointment times… we had slots, but not at times when those students were available, so for some people we were offering them a time the following week… on Friday we had a three-person waiting list.”
As of Monday, “we’ve had a number of new people contact us… this sort of demand is pretty unprecedented for the fall, so we are now doing in the fall what we normally do in the spring, which is bringing in therapists on an independent contractor basis.” The outside therapists will be adding at least six and possibly as many as ten new hours of individual therapy time to the schedule.
Ramirez reported that “as of the end of October, we’ve had 131 students who were clients here this semester—that includes people who came once and people who’ve been coming since labor day—and last week we had 109 scheduled appointments, which is the official number of hours on the books.” The 131 figure is an incremental increase over the past four years—at the same time last year, 127 students had visited CAPS, with 82, 111, and 115 in the years before that.
What is unusual is to have all 109 appointments filled at once. Asked to explain why they usually have heavier demand in the spring and why they have heavy demand now, Ramirez pointed to “aggregate build up” of students visiting CAPS on a weekly basis. “As the year goes on some people stay in therapy and there are new people coming in all the time… we know that the average number of visits is 8 or 9 per student and that 20 percent of the people that use us have an excess of 15 visits a year… it’s important, and unique among college mental health, that we’re able to continue to provide treatment to those people.”
For the moment, Ramirez also had a message for students who will be coming into CAPS in the upcoming weeks. “We count on students to let us know their sense of urgency… can they wait? If somebody says that they can wait, we’ll take them at their word, but if they can’t wait, we do have some give in our system, we do have overtime, we can triage and prioritize, [and] a student with a pressing concern will be more important than an administrative meeting.”
Would CAPS consider adding more full-time positions if this pattern continued? “I am continually assessing the staffing model, crafting modifications in response to increases in demand… Dean Larimore tracks these changes with me and has been instrumental in supporting staff position increases over the recent years.”
“What was once a year-to-year funded position for a Post-Graduate Fellow, currently held by Joanna Frederick, is now a permanently funded rotating position… this has been very helpful. Also funded, beginning this year, was a 30% budget increase for psychiatric coverage.”
Reflecting on the reasons for the current demand, Ramirez said, “we’ve learned that there are general patterns to CAPS usage and then there are the quirky ‘blips’ for which there’s no evident explanation.” He added, “it’s a good thing that we’re as busy as we are… that suggests there are a lot of students taking their situation seriously and addressing their concerns.”
One possibility is an increased awareness about mental health. The recent “We’re All Mad Here” campaign sponsored by Speak 2 Swatties may be encouraging more people to take their problems seriously. Melissa Cruz ’10, one of the organizers, said, “Well, it looks like the cat’s outta the bag. Swatties are human beings… there should be no shame in asking for and receiving help when one needs it. In fact, it warrants an increased level of respect to do so in such a hostile environment.”
Megan Jeffreys ’10, also of Speak 2 Swatties, agreed. “I do think that having the peer counseling center open last year may have helped started to get people talking about issues concerning mental health… the more we talk about mental health as a general issue, the easier it becomes to talk about personal struggles. Subsequently, it seems that it becomes easier to get help when you need it… I honestly hope that our advocacy has helped people to get help from CAPS if they needed it but were hesitant because of stigma. However, I really have no idea if this is the case.”
Cruz added that the “We’re All Mad Here” discussion on Monday had an excellent turnout of around 50 students, inspiring their group. “We’re going to work harder to create an outlet for students to acknowledge and work on de-stigmatizing these issues. Next semester, we plan to address the concerns some had with the discussion, in a smaller, less intimidating environment.”
Although CAPS has hired additional therapists to meet demand, Ramirez did want to emphasize the multiple sources of support on campus. “Swarthmore College has an institutionalized value of communal concern… CAPS is one aspect of a broad net of supports that include the deans, the WHC staff, the religious advisors, the RAs, the Sexual Health Counselors, etc., and now the Speak 2 Swatties peer counselors.”
Information about contacting CAPS can be found here; Speak 2 Swatties counselors are located in Upper Tarble rooms 308 and 312 with drop in hours from 9-11pm Monday-Thursday and 2-4pm Saturday and Sunday, and their e-mails are available on posters around campus.