When fourth-year anthropology student Emilie Helfand sought care at Counseling and Psychological Services, she said she was notified that students without the University of California Student Health Insurance Plan are limited to three therapy sessions per year.
Helfand, a commuter student, drove approximately 30 miles to UCLA only to find out CAPS did not offer what she was hoping for.
“What I thought was on-campus therapy turned out to be a waste of my time because nothing happened,” Helfand said.
Students said they were frustrated by poor long-term mental health services at CAPS. However, many students on campus are not even aware CAPS does not offer long-term services.
CAPS provides mental health care services for UCLA students on campus, including psychotherapy, individual counseling and group therapy.
Lara Castagna, a fourth-year gender studies student, shared similar sentiments, adding she felt the center falsely advertised its services.
“I feel like CAPS puts out all this amazing stuff they can do for students,” Castagna said. “Everything sounds so amazing, but when you actually go out there to ask for help when you really need help, it’s not that easy to get to those services.”
CAPS instead refers students to other institutions for long-term care, Nicole Green, CAPS executive director said.
Students who have UC SHIP are referred to either Neuropsychiatric Behavioral Health Services or Anthem Blue Cross insurance within the community, Green said. Students without UC SHIP are connected to their own health insurance plan and are referred to care from there.
CAPS has always fallen under UCLA Student Affairs, which prioritizes short-term treatment in the interest of promoting student development programs that can reach the entirety of the student body, Green said.
“We are part-situated in an education institution,” Green said. “How much can be done through the educational system and how much can be done through health care is a question.”
Susanne Seplow, assistant vice chancellor of student development, said she thinks a short-term therapy model allows more students to access CAPS services.
“The short-term treatment model works to meet the campus need most effectively, referring out the smaller percentage of students who need longer-term care,” Seplow said.
Green said CAPS staff offers brochures and training year-round, and presentations during New Student Orientation to mitigate student misconceptions.
However, some students said they think the current way CAPS informs students of its services leaves them unclear about the treatment they can receive from the program.
“CAPS is not very transparent with what they offer. That’s a major flaw,” Helfand said. “A lot of people come in thinking they have this (long-term treatment) available to them, and in reality, they’re hit with the truth, that it’s not actually all available to them.”
Carrie Bearden, a UCLA psychology professor, said one in four Americans will experience a mental illness at some point in their lifetime, and about 75 percent of those illnesses develop before the age of 24.
“If you think about it, there is a huge amount of escalating need for mental health treatment in college students,” Bearden said.
Green said she believes changing campus-wide attitudes surrounding mental health would better address this need than simply changing the range of services CAPS provides.
“I don’t think we need to focus just on CAPS,” Green said. “I think this is a campus- and institutional- and frankly cultural-wide phenomenon that we need to address.”
Along with long-term professional services, CAPS directs students to on-campus mental health groups unaffiliated with CAPs in addition to the psychiatric evaluation, short-term counseling sessions and group therapy services offered at CAPS.
CAPS will inform students seeking treatment of student-led support networks on campus, but many choose to wait for an appointment with a mental health professional at CAPS, Green said. In fact, CAPS has more peer counselors available than students who request peer counseling, she added.
“I’m trying to figure out a way to make it more palatable for people to use peer support or to go off campus, to take advantage of (mental health) research on campus,” Green said.
Shrita Pendekanti, a fourth-year neuroscience student and director of the Active Minds chapter of the Student Wellness Commission, said she believes CAPS should be a place where students can seek confidential and professional mental health treatment.
“I think your friends and family can only help you so much, but there’s a reason why you want to see a professional or you’re not comfortable talking about certain things with the people in your life,” Pendekanti said.
Bearden said she believes the CAPS model is insufficient, but current resources cannot match campus mental health needs.
“Do I think it’s enough? No,” Bearden said. “At the same time, in terms of the mental health model that we have and the resources available, it’s impossible for the number of providers at CAPS to provide ongoing individual treatment for the number of students who need it and who otherwise would want to access that care.”