The recent Fourth Estate article focusing on CAPS services (Oct. 1 edition) highlighted the importance of supporting the mental health of Mason’s students. However, it painted a skewed and incomplete picture. I want to share information and important points that were not included or emphasized in the article.
The “Troubles” in CAPS are Not Unique: Each year, the Center for Collegiate Mental Health (CCMH) produces a report that describes data-based trends in college student mental health. What the Fourth Estate identified as struggles associated with CAPS at Mason are actually problems that the CCMH reports show as universal to college counseling centers across the country. CCMH director Dr. Ben Locke has described the combination of growing demand for clinical services, greater numbers of students who are more likely to endorse what he describes as “threat to self” characteristics and the fact that students who are at higher risk are provided with nearly 30 percent more services as the “perfect storm” for universities: a storm that is not just centered over Mason.
CAPS and the Mason Community are Working Hard to Address the Issues
The article highlights staff shortages, but did not mention the efforts that CAPS has made to cover these shortages, with significant support from the university. This summer, we brought on three new full-time clinical staff members and hired four part-time clinicians to cover the remaining two openings. We also brought on three full-time doctoral interns in psychology and six part-time graduate student therapists (supervised by licensed clinicians), again with funding from the university. CAPS more than tripled the size of its clinical training program this summer in order to be able to offer more services to students.
We Continue to Value Feedback from Mason Students: Our partnership with the Student Health Advisory Board (SHAB) has yielded valuable student feedback that has shaped how we provide services. Based on the feedback reported, we made significant changes in our services this year, that were not highlighted in the article in order to better meet student needs. For example, we introduced several new initiatives designed to reach more students including our new walk-in clinic for students who are experiencing non-urgent concerns, online psychoeducational support through TAO Connect (found at www.caps.gmu.edu), daily drop-in coping skills workshops and online scheduling for our relaxation space (the MindSpa). We continue to explore innovative solutions and invite feedback from students and campus partners. We welcome the opportunity to work proactively with the Mason community to address the swiftly growing need for mental health services.
Rachel Wernicke, Ph.D.
Executive Director, Counseling and Psychological Services