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Wang: Don’t confuse CAPS’ resource availability with accessibility

Colin Wang, Columnist

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Provost Dan Linzer’s defense of the recent plans for moving counseling services from the Women’s Center to Counseling and Psychological Services revealed how out of touch the administration is with the reality of mental health treatment on campus. Putting all mental health resources under the umbrella of CAPS would certainly make things easier for the school. However, what’s good for the University is not necessarily what’s good for students or others who use Northwestern’s mental health resources.

Last April, the announcement that CAPS had removed its 12-session limit was met with resounding approval from students and parents. In an ironic twist, this apparent improvement may in fact become the cause of many challenges going forward regarding mental health resources. Removing the limit has apparently misled some to believe CAPS has shifted away from focusing on short-term forms of treatment, and Linzer cited the change as further justification for eliminating counseling from the Women’s Center. By removing the 12-session limit, CAPS seems to have received the undeserved, unwanted and dangerous designation of the university’s mental health cure-all.

I know from personal experience the clinically efficient nature of consolidating resources through CAPS often deters those who need help from reaching out. From its computerized intake forms to the dizzyingly long hallway of offices, CAPS first came off as cold and unwelcoming. This isn’t meant to disparage the effectiveness of CAPS’ resources. In my own experience, talking with CAPS counselors has been incredibly useful in helping me identify and address my own mental health obstacles. Nevertheless, it was also incredibly difficult to overcome the initial barrier of reaching out. My own experience with CAPS began long before I walked into their office on the second floor of 633 Emerson. Before I reached out, I had spent two weeks talking with close friends and mentally preparing to contact CAPS. Friends told me about the initial challenge of reaching out but still encouraged to take advantage of the resources. Without their advice, I’m not sure I would have gone.

CAPS cannot be expected to handle all potential issues that might arise. Instead of adding personnel to the already overfilled tool that is CAPS, the University should be focused on separating its functions into a robust toolbox of mental health facilities beyond just a singular option. The University should add mental health care facilities in other places on campus, as discussed in Edson Montenegro’s op-ed, perhaps making the idea of asking for help more accessible for those who don’t find CAPS appealing.

I was able to take advantage of the University’s mental health resources because I had a support system and prior knowledge of CAPS, something not all students necessarily possess going in. The University seems to assume all students will go through a similar process. Yet counseling at the Women’s Center was more effective for many students because it created a holistically nurturing environment, as a recent op-ed by Ariana Hammersmith noted. Adding mental health resources does not necessarily mean they will be accessible to those who need them. What is the point of improving resources at CAPS if the people who need them aren’t comfortable enough to use them?

Before administrators like Linzer restructure mental health resources on campus for the sake of efficiency, they must look beyond simply the net number of counselors. If making mental health resources accessible for the community is part of their agenda, NU administrators should spread out, not centralize, CAPS resources. Putting resources in a variety of welcoming environments might help encourage people to reach out in the space that feels most comfortable to them.

Colin Wang is a Weinberg junior. He can be contacted at colinwang2018@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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