Mental Health Needs Speed, Not Excuses

On Monday, Sept. 21, my first semester after transferring to Georgetown went from bad to worse. I learned that two students from my old college had died. The news sent me into a downward emotional spiral. I was already having an extremely rough time transitioning to Georgetown, but this event made everything more difficult. When I found out what happened, I didn’t have any peers to go to; I was not comfortable hysterically crying in front of people I had just met. I also did not think talking to the Counseling and Psychiatric Services clinician-on-call would be helpful, as I prefer to see someone face-to-face. So, that night I met with the chaplain-on-call, and she suggested that I go to CAPS to try to sort out all of my feelings.

For those who have never been to CAPS, all students must meet with an intake coordinator, who determines which counsellor best suits a student before he can see a counsellor. I met with an intake coordinator the Wednesday after I found out what happened. He asked me to make an appointment with a counsellor. The soonest appointment available was on Sept. 28, one week after I had heard the news. However, I could not make that appointment because of my practice and class schedules. I managed to fit the next available appointment into my schedule. It was on Oct. 2, 11 days after I had initially met with the intake coordinator.
Waiting for that CAPS appointment was extremely painful. During those 11 days, I watched my emotional state continue to decline. I was incredibly frustrated because I had done the right thing — asking for help — but the help I had asked for was not coming quickly enough. Quite desperate for any kind of support, I turned to Georgetown’s other resources. I tried to reconnect with the chaplain who had seen me originally, but because Pope Francis was in Washington that week, she was not around. My dean wasn’t free until the week after. I did eventually see the chaplain, as well as multiple deans, and they were all very helpful. But there are some things that can only be resolved by working with a trained therapist. I was still waiting to see one.
On the morning of Oct. 2, I was looking forward to the fact that I would finally be able to release some of the negative feelings I had been carrying around for the last week and half. However, the first session with a counsellor is always what CAPS calls an “evaluation,” where you give the counsellor background information so he can better understand your situation. At this meeting, I was unable to work through my issues.

CAPS employees asked me to wait until the following Monday to see my counsellor for the second time. While I was again frustrated that none of my issues had been addressed in my first meeting, I was hopeful that during my second meeting, I would finally be able to rid myself of the negativity I was holding on to. However, that second appointment turned out to be a continuation of my evaluation. After that appointment, I still had unresolved feelings, and my next appointment wasn’t for nine more days. Thankfully, my evaluation was finished, so I knew the next appointment might actually be helpful. But this appointment where actual counselling would take place was three weeks after I initially had gone to CAPS.
On Oct. 5, I attended the Mental Health Open Forum on campus, where I shared my experience with Phil Meilman, the director of CAPS. I told him that no one should be left without help for that long. I told him that he should not be under the impression that CAPS provides timely care to all students. He apologized and admitted that the system had failed, but said that CAPS is doing the best it can with a lack of funding and staff. I then asked if CAPS prioritizes which students are seen first based on their reasons for needing for counseling. He said that CAPS would drop anything for someone who is suicidal, and that if I needed help sooner I should have kept calling CAPS. But, when CAPS prioritizes students, they should use a wider range of categories besides “suicidal” and “nonsuicidal.” There is an area between those two extremes, and students dealing with serious but not life-threatening issues should still be seen by counselors in a reasonable amount of time.

Also, CAPS hours of operation do not make any sense for a service geared toward students, which is why it was so hard for me to make appointments. Many students have classes or sports practices between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., which can make it difficult for them to be seen quickly. Additionally, mental health services are needed most during the evening. That is when all of the support from professors and deans disappears and when students have time to reflect.

While CAPS being underfunded and understaffed is an understandable reason for failing to provide optimal care, there are a few things it can improve. If CAPS revamps the way it prioritizes new clients and offers hours later in the evening, it would ensure that other students have a better experience than I did. CAPS needs to be better, because some students cannot afford for it not to be.

Brittany Rios is a sophomore in the College.

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  1. Thank you for sharing your story. I am sorry you had to experience that and hope things are looking up for you now.

    I had a similar experience in 2013 when I learned some very distressing family news. I was a complete and utter mess as I was making calls to social services and doing anything I could to help my baby sister. I sought help from CAPS, and waited over a week after my meeting with the intake coordinator to actually talk with a counselor. I’m saddened that the conditions haven’t improved over the last few years. Really unacceptable.

  2. Similar Experience says:

    I had the same issue when I was a student. I went to CAPS toward the end of a semester after dealing with some big issues (but wasn’t suicidal). I met with the intake person and got an appointment. They then cancelled the appointment the morning of, and tried to reschedule me for after I was supposed to have gone because the semester was over. I gave up on asking for help, and never went back to CAPS.

  3. These are excellent, concrete ways to improve CAPS. Thank you Brittany for sharing and I hope you have been able to get the support you deserve.

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