Mental health services on the rise at SGV private universities

At 7:30 a.m. May 1, University of La Verne junior Rachel Drake wakes up, brushes her short blonde hair, puts in her earrings, does her winged eyeliner and takes a pill from the small orange bottle on her dresser. Before she walks out the door, like she does every morning, she must take her prescription — 20 mg of Prozac.

Today she has an extra stop. Before class, she stops by the stone building on the corner of 2nd and E Street, checks in at the front desk, and takes a seat. She waits for her monthly visit with her school-appointed therapist.

“Therapists at school are accessible and free under my student insurance,” Drake said. “I’m lucky that I don’t have to drive back to San Diego once a month and pay $55 to see a therapist who doesn’t know me or is aware of my university and is assigned to me by my insurance.”

At private universities in the San Gabriel Valley, an increasing number of students are taking advantage of their colleges’ mental health facilities. At University of La Verne, Azusa Pacific University and the five Claremont colleges, full-time undergraduate students have access to free mental health services under their school-issued student insurance.

Compared with other private colleges in the area, the University of La Verne’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) has been busier than its counterparts. Eleven percent of ULV’s undergraduates use psychological services compared to 8 percent at APU and 5 percent at the Claremont colleges.

“We understand students on campus become stressed or anxious with college life, so it’s important they are accommodated with an on-campus mental health service,”CAPS Director Elleni Kuolos said.

University of La Verne students who use CAPS’ services attend appointments three times more than students at APU and the five Claremont colleges. However, ULV has the least students and mental health programs to offer compared to the other universities.

“We find that nothing beats face-to-face interaction,” CAPS director Elleni Kuolos said.

Therapists at the five Claremont colleges’ combined mental health program, known as Monsour Counseling and Psychological Services (MCAPS), can interact with students in ways not available at ULV.

“We have an emergency therapist who is available after business hours who can provide counseling over the phone and via Skype,” MCAPS director Gary DeGroot said.

Like MCAPS, APU’s mental health program, the University Counseling Center (UCC), also has 24-hour and emergency services.

Out of the three programs, CAPS is the only one that does not provide 24-hour mental health care through the school.

“If I could change one thing about CAPS is that I don’t have access to a therapist at night,” Drake said. “The night is when I’m alone with my thoughts. That’s when I might need them the most.”

If CAPS students have an after-hours emergency, they must contact local mental health hospitals provided to them through an introductory pamphlet.

“It’s impersonal,” Drake said. “If I have a psychiatric emergency I have to rely on people who don’t know me and don’t know my situation, triggers or issues.”

On May 15, CAPS formally requested funding for a 24-hour therapist to begin next school year, Kuolos said.

Antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication and anti-psychotics are prescribed by psychiatrists at all three of the programs, however more UCC students are prescribed medication than by any other service. Eighty-six percent of UCC students are prescribed antidepressants compared to 72 percent at MCAPS and 79 percent at CAPS.

“It’s not our intention to prescribe medication to everyone. There are a lot of factors that go into deciding if antidepressants are the right choice for each student,” UCC Director Bill Fiala said.

Child and adolescent psychologist Joanne Als said she believes college campuses prescribe medication to distance themselves from potential lawsuits.

“Many college mental health programs are quick to prescribe medication because it’s immediate proof that the University is meeting the needs of students,” Als said. “It removes liability if the student were ever to have a psychological break or complete suicide. The University could say in a lawsuit ‘We did everything we could, we even medicated them.’”

Overall, CAPS provides service to more of its student population and a longer-continuing treatment. CAPS students visit approximately 10 times a school year compared to one to two times a school year at MCAPS and UCC.

Kuolos credits this with the University’s therapeutic practices and involvement with multiple clubs on campus that advocate for mental health and sexual assault awareness.

“Depression isn’t just you take a pill or go to therapy once and you’re okay, it’s a process,” Kuolos said. “We try to make students understand this by being active on campus.”

Drake has adopted this motto from CAPS.

“I know that alleviating my symptoms of depression is a process,” Drake said. “I visit CAPS at least once a month, go to group and individual therapy, take my medication and use the coping techniques I’ve learned.”

CAPS, unlike UCC and MCAPS, contacts students throughout the school year and between appointments.

“We encourage our students to come back and send them texts and email reminders so that they know we care, we’re here and we’re ready for them,” Kuolos said.

Convincing students to continue their therapy is a challenge at UCC and MCAPS.

“Our biggest problem is getting students to come back,” DeGroot said. “As of now, they come about once a semester, if that.”

Because of the low return-rate, UCC psychiatrists tend to prescribe medication during the first visit. This contributes to the large percentage of UCC students on medication, Fiala said.

“Students tend not to understand that being healthy mentally is a process, they need to come back more,” Fiala said.

To increase participation, APU is implementing e-mail reminders to UCC students beginning next school year. MCAPS will not implement a contact list as students are from five different colleges, according to DeGroot.

At 8:30 a.m. Drake is called into the office by Kuolos. As the school year is coming to an end, Drake receives her end-of-the-year assessment and summer supply of her anti-depressants.

In Fall 2017, Drake will return and continue her treatment at CAPS. She will continue therapy at home in San Diego during the summer.

“The most important thing is making myself go, I can’t do this alone,” Drake said.

The story above was written as an assignment for my Journalism 300 class. Information and quotes should not all be taken as fact.

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