College has become sort of like what a beach weekend used to be. Students think, ‘What we do here doesn’t really count in our lives, doesn’t really count in the real world,’ but you can’t live four years like that,” says Kathy Hollingsworth, the director of Counseling and Psychological Services for the past six years who will retire this summer.
Last semester, when I could have used the (professional) ears of a stranger, I didn’t seek out the services that CAPS offers. I’ve noticed that among my friends and acquaintances, we don’t talk about going to CAPS. One sophomore who requested anonymity explained: “Despite the fact that I share almost all of my most personal concerns with my friends, I am still hesitant to discuss the fact that I have been to CAPS numerous times. I just don’t want a sign attached to my head that reads ‘mental case.’”
Concerns about wait-times for non-emergency appointments are common. It turns out it doesn’t take a month (like I’ve always thought) to get an appointment. According to Hollingswoth, “Last year an analysis of students’ mean length of wait for initial appointment indicated that 49 percent of our student clients were seen within one week and 83 percent were seen within 2 weeks. Among all, 29 percent of students were seen within three days or less, including the same day they called.”
Not too shabby, eh?
But there are more threads to the issue of mental health at Duke, including visibility. I usually glance over the bus advertisements and CAPS plugs in emails from my RA. Hollingsworth said, “People don’t notice a service until they need it or a friend needs it.” I’ve worried before about referring a friend to CAPS, for fear they’d see the recommendation as a betrayal of trust. Hollingsworth explained that last year, they had more than 2,000 consults with concerned friends or adults: It’s not uncommon to do so, and “it could be one of the most important interventions in a student’s life.”
Another sophomore explained, “I initially refused to seek help from CAPS just because my culture looks down upon psychological treatment,” but that after making a pact with two of her best friends, she was “glad my friends could step up for me when I couldn’t for myself.”
One misconception about CAPS is that it’s only there for emergency situations. In reality, roughly 85 percent of the students who initially come to CAPS are for non-emergencies. Hollingsworth worries in the next 10 years that this non-emergency service “could get lost.”
A senior woman I talked to highlighted a negative element of her CAPS experience. She felt that her counselor “couldn’t relate to me culturally at all. I talked to him about my experience dealing with the black community at Duke, and he was clueless about how to help me.” She added that although it was helpful to talk through her issues, she was left wanting “long-term solutions.” She still views CAPS as “a positive thing that all Duke students should take advantage of.”
Hollingsworth admits, “In some sense, we’ll never have a large enough counseling staff.” Despite the budget constraints of the last few years, “[Vice President for Student Affairs] Larry Moneta has gone the extra mile in helping us.”
During her tenure, CAPS has added three to four new positions. Even so, the current system is reaching maximum capacity. Hollingsworth says, “We make a lot of efforts to see students right now. We’re dropping most of our meetings; some people are even seeing students over lunch. It’s a priority to get students in.” Wait-times may be longer than is ideal, and this perpetuates the misguided perception that it’s impossible to get an appointment.
A lot of what CAPS does is beyond the realm of one-on-one appointments. Staff members host workshops on everything from romance and dating at Duke (apparently both are possible) to combating procrastination. They also meet with student organizations to create “more caring mental health communities.” Hollingsworth said that last year, they had more than 19,000 contacts with students through these programs and others, and added that “many people will test out the waters by attending a program and come in sideways” to other services.
Kelly Crace, a CAPS staff psychologist, will be replacing Hollingsworth as Executive Director July 1. Financial constraints dictate the availability and quality of mental health care... but I hope that during his tenure, we can remove the stigma associated with seeking out his staff’s support for personal problems. It’s impressive to admit you need help, and it’s encouraging when you share that experience with others.
Samantha Lachman is a Trinity sophomore. Her column runs every other Thursday.