Students should utilize CAPS services

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In light of the attention surrounding a student’s death last semester, campus members began to re-evaluate happiness at Carnegie Mellon.

In all majors and departments, stress is shrugged off, sleep is deemed unnecessary, and emotional problems are placed on the back burner — but it is imperative that students deal with these problems and are comfortable with the psychological services that Carnegie Mellon offers. After hearing different stories from those across campus overloaded with work and stressed to the max, we need to make the Carnegie Mellon community aware that yes, Houston, we have a problem.

In the wake of recent campus discussions and Town Hall meetings, Kurt Kumler, Ph.D. and Director of CAPS acknowledged, “The time is right to move forward.”

In January, along with junior creative writing major Colleen Casey, I was connected with Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) as part of a semester-long project, where we proposed products that CAPS could use to increase the visibility of the program and to reacquaint students with its services.

Our research — including a survey of Carnegie Mellon students, an analysis of data from other college campuses, and the creation of PowerPoint slides and interactive handouts — was partially driven by our own curiosity: Are students at Carnegie Mellon actually any different than students at other schools, as far as using mental health services? How much do students really know about where and how to find help on campus? Is there still a stigma about seeking counseling?

Nationally, only 10 percent of a college student body uses mental health services yearly, according to the Journal of American College Health. So the fact that CAPS sees 1,200 students annually out of 11,531 undergrad and graduate students is no cause for alarm; it mirrors the national average.

The 10 percent statistic seems low, however, in the case of Carnegie Mellon. The combination of a student body that is extraordinarily high achieving and that thrives on a level of extreme academic rigor is a formula for spontaneous combustion. It may not be an explosion in this case, but a quiet implosion that is just as harmful. There are a handful of students who may silently be crumbling — more who are crushed by stress around final exam periods. While the 10 percent statistic means that we are doing okay here at Carnegie Mellon, we really should hope for a higher figure.

But simply hoping students will get to CAPS isn’t enough. Through our research, we discovered that there are universities with demographics very similar to that of Carnegie Mellon, such as Emory University in Atlanta, that actively promote their mental health services through easy-to-navigate websites, providing contact information for students in crisis, screening tools for depression, and links to ongoing programs like stress clinics, as well as outside resources.

In analyzing the comments from the 119 respondents to our Facebook survey, we discovered that there were some students who reported that “it’s hard to get an appointment,” and a few who say CAPS “is a joke.” In general, though, Carnegie Mellon students know what CAPS means and how to get there.

The average Carnegie Mellon student is at least moderately familiar with mental health issues — especially depression, anxiety, and eating disorders — and the majority refutes the myth that people who go to therapy are somehow “weak.” So what is really keeping more students from using the services?

At times our parents, peers, or professors think they are giving us comfort when they offer the old cliché, “Well, everyone is in the same boat.” At other times, we beat ourselves up with self-talk like, “If he or she can, then I should be able to.”

The student body here is extraordinarily high achieving; CAPS is on campus for a reason. Reaching for help or recognizing the need for support may seem like a sign of failure, but honestly, it’s the smartest thing a brilliant Carnegie Mellon student — like you or me — will ever do.