CAPS Construction Doubles Access for UA Students

CAPS Construction Doubles Access for UA Students

As students show an increase in the use of mental health care, Pat Walker Health Center staff has expanded their outreach to meet the growing need.

UA students have increased the use of Counseling and Psychological Services by 28.6 percent since the 2014-2015 academic year, according to Pat Walker Health Center data. In the last four academic years, 33.8 percent more of the student body has had at least one appointment with CAPS, data shows.

Coloring pages are offered to students waiting for appointments at Counseling and Psychological Services. Photo by Mary Hennigan.

By Mary Hennigan
The Razorback Reporter

The Pat Walker Health Center staff expanded mental health outreach to accommodate the growing need. The construction doubled the capacity for students in CAPS, said Mary Alice Serafini, associate vice chancellor for Student Affairs and executive director at the Pat Walker Health Center.

Zac Brown, the assistant director of communications at the Pat Walker Health Center, attributed the increase of students to the completion of construction at the center and the decreasing stigma behind mental illness. Instead of promoting events for Suicide Prevention Week and having students attend on their own, Brown and Mindy Wilkerson, the suicide coordinator, tried a different approach.

“We really just want to meet students where they are and find ways to speak to them,” Wilkerson said. 
In the past, she has been told by students that they would not come to events about suicide on their own, she said. Based on this, Wilkerson and the Pat Walker Health Center staff flipped strategies to reach groups of students by speaking in classrooms. 

“By going into these classes, you’re already reducing that vulnerability stigma by saying ‘I’m gonna come to you’ instead of having that strength and courage to go to an event,” Brown said.

Sophomore Elizabeth Black visited CAPS for the first time in August 2018, she said. 

“They didn’t have any room in their therapy classes so I had to see a therapist off campus,” Black said. “It was really inconvenient because I didn’t have my car. My brother had to take off work to take me.” 

After she started with an off-campus therapist, Black didn’t see a reason to return to CAPS, she said. 

“If they had room for me I would have gone more,” Black said. 

Black thinks the new construction is great, but might not be enough, she said. The best-case scenario would be to prepare for every single student.

“It’s not saying that more people are having issues with mental health, it’s saying more people are starting to get help for it,” Black said. 

During college, most students struggle with anxiety and depression, Wilkerson said. With that can come suicidal challenges and panic attacks.

Senior Caroline Praestholm is president of the UA Mental Health Awareness Organization and has personal experience with suicidal tendencies. 

“I had a twofold experience. I have gone through suicidal ideology, but my father also committed suicide when I was 17,” Praestholm said. 

Her suicidal thoughts started in high school and got severe as she started college, she said. During her freshman year, Praestholm felt isolated and overwhelmed by the college study load.

“I’m a very independent person. I didn’t want to ask for advice, so that made me feel like I wasn’t good enough,” Praestholm said. “I blamed myself for not doing well, not developing skills earlier and not connecting better with people.”

After receiving a semester’s worth of grades she was not proud of, Praestholm said it was time for a change. 

“When I got those grades back, I realized this was not working anymore and I needed to get help. Not everyone is that lucky,” she said. 

Praestholm started as a member of the Mental Health Awareness Organization. Now, as president, she distributes emails to 288 members to spread awareness of different mental health issues. 

Finding risk factors for suicide is complicated, said Wilkerson. Each person has unique individual pain and trauma and the Pat Walker Health Center wants to find ways to speak with those individuals in ways that they can hear, she said. 

“If it was cookie-cutter it would make it easier to prevent it,” Brown said. “But it’s not that black-and-white, so obviously it’s important that we’re touching on many different angles and reaching out to many diverse people.”

CAPS Partner Increases NWA Mental Health Access

CAPS Partner Increases NWA Mental Health Access

ThrivingCampus is a database that helps students, faculty and staff find available mental health providers in the area. ThrivingCampus accepts 115 insurance plans and offers 75 specialties.

Counseling and Psychological Services is located on the second floor at the Pat Walker Health Center.

Even after doubling capacity at UA Counseling and Psychological Services, staff schedule up to 15 new appointments daily and are full almost weekly, Pat Walker Health Center staff said. More than 50% of Americans will be diagnosed as having a mental illness during their lifetime and one in five will experience a mental illness in a given year, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Expanding the Health Center was something we had been focused on since 2004 when we realized we exhausted our space,” said Zac Brown, the assistant director of communications at the Pat Walker Health Center. 

Long-term mental health care is available to UA students, faculty and staff this semester with a new CAPS partner. CAPS staff connected with ThrivingCampus over the summer to increase mental health access, Brown said. 

ThrivingCampus is a database that lists available mental health care providers in the area. Users have access to 75 different specialties that include anxiety, depression, internet addiction and body image. 

Users can choose specific qualities such as gender, language, race and religion when finding mental health care on ThrivingCampus. 

“Being able to narrow that focus down and find that correct mental health provider is going to lead to a much better relationship,” Brown said. “It will put students at a lot more ease.”

Clinicians can list their services for free, but they are screened for valid licenses, said Melissa Atkinson, clinical case manager for CAPS. 

ThrivingCampus was introduced for students to have easier access finding clinicians, Atkinson said. Previously, staff used a 207-page Microsoft Word document database of clinicians in the area. 

“It’s clunky, difficult to use and dated,” Atkinson said. “We don’t know in real time which community provider has availability, if they’re still paneled with that insurance or even still in practice.” 

ThrivingCampus accepts 115 insurance plans. CAPS does not accept any, but the rates are “unbelievably lower than what they are in the community,” said Mary Alice Serafini, associate vice chancellor for Student Affairs, executive director of Pat Walker Health Center. 

At CAPS, an initial psychiatric consultation is $85 and a follow-up is $40. Regular counseling is $20 a session after the initial assessment. 

“When a student says ‘that is way over the top’, we immediately do a budget review with them to see how much they can afford to pay,” Serafini said. “We don’t want anybody to go without care.” 

Private care can range from $75 to $275, depending on insurance coverage.

The UofA employs 18 full-time clinicians and two part-time psychiatrists at CAPS, Serafini said. The ratio of clinician to student is 1-to-1,500 at CAPS, she said. This meets the recommended standard set by the International Association of Counseling Services, Inc. 

“In a perfect world, we would have enough clinicians to see every student; that’s not realistic,” Brown said. “With mental health having a high demand and lower supply, we want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to help as many students that are looking for mental health services.”

The CAPS staff workload increases as the semester continues, Brown said. Staff try to keep the waiting period under two weeks. Most students get an appointment within a few days. 

“There becomes a period of time when we don’t have the availability. If we can’t meet the need then we can help find a community provider who can,” Atkinson said. 

ThrivingCampus is used by universities nationally. Students can search for mental health care near other partnering schools. 

“One of the nice aspects of this program is that if a student from Texas wanted to find mental health care outside of northwest Arkansas, we have access to all the area universities that are partnered with ThrivingCampus,” Brown said.

The UA Registered Student Organizations, Active Minds and the Mental Health Awareness Organization promote positive mental health on campus. A Mental Health Resource Fair is scheduled at 11 a.m. Oct. 10 in the Arkansas Union. 

The Pat Walker Health Center pays $750 annually to provide ThrivingCampus for students, faculty and staff, Serafini said. Users can get access to ThrivingCampus for free with the link on the Pat Walker Health Center website.