Removing the Cap From CAPS

By Leah John

When I clicked the accept button on my admissions offer to UCLA, my perception of LA was extremely narrow. In my mind, all the residents of one of the largest cities in the world fell into one of two categories: vegans, and people who went to therapy. On extra special occasions one could find a Los Angeles resident who was BOTH. As an avid supporter of therapy, I was ecstatic to reach a city where taking care of one’s mental health wasn’t stigmatized and a school where resources were readily available. However, it quickly became abundantly clear that receiving any form of counseling was much harder than I anticipated, as UCLA’s marquee mental health resource, the Counseling and Psychological Service or CAPS for short, is far too inaccessible to be useful for their student body. If mental health is truly as important to the school as it is touted to be, CAPS should not only be made more available but also completely free to all students that request its services, even if that means slightly raising flat tuition rates for all.

CAPS provides on-campus individual and group therapy as well as psychiatric evaluations. Accessing those services in the first place, however, is made as difficult as possible. In order to request any appointment, students are required to make a phone call during their office hours, which coincide with the school hours of most students (9-4 on Mondays through Thursdays and 9-3 on Fridays) thus making it difficult for students to set up an appointment in the first place. The mandatory phone call is especially problematic considering that those who suffer from mental health issues, especially anxiety disorders, are much more likely to fear making phone calls, thus preventing many of the neediest students from receiving the help they need. Multiple of my peers have expressed how CAPS requiring a phone call—especially one in which they must disclose their personal struggles—instead of simply creating a form or online submission, has prevented them from reaching out. When the phone call is finally made, due to a resource shortage, the wait time to receive an individual counseling session extends over multiple months. For students vulnerable enough to ask for help, the unnecessarily extensive process and long wait time make doing so nearly impossible.

The CAPS wait time and general inefficiency reflect a larger issue of a lack of available mental health resources. The lingering effects of the pandemic have caused a surge in the amount of patients seeking some form of counseling. However, the sharp increase in demand has not been reflected in the number of therapists offering services. According to the American Psychological Association, 30% of psychologists had an increased patient load due to the pandemic. Moreover, many have waiting lists that expand further than ever before. The issue is no longer that people are afraid to reach out, it’s that when they do there is no one available to help them.

In order to downsize the problem, online therapy providers have become more prevalent than ever before. Resources like Better Help have surged in popularity across the country. CAPS has not missed out on this trend and now covers the cost of Better Help online services for many students on need-based scholarships. However, online therapy lacks several of the essential components of in person sessions. Zoom calls make it difficult for therapists to read body language, making it difficult to gauge the state of their patients. Internet lag and zoom awkwardness make fostering a therapist client relationship difficult, making it harder for patients to be vulnerable about their struggles. In short, although online counseling is better than nothing, students need in person help in order to get the best quality service.

Additionally, the scarce and subpar services provided are more expensive than first let on. Although students who opt in to UCSHIP are able to get help at a reduced price or for free depending on the services used, students who do not have university insurance must pay out of pocket. For individual therapy services, it is $15 per session. For most, therapy is a weekly activity, however under CAPS only 6 sessions are allowed per person. Thus, for students in crisis, few sessions are made available and each one must be paid out of pocket,discouraging many from requesting help in the first place. It would be naive to claim that making health services free to the UCLA student body would be an easy task, but it is still an extremely necessary one. Mental health is essential to engage in classes. Providing mental health services is just as important to keeping the student body alive and safe as requiring students who live on the hill to buy a meal plan. Moreover, for students who come from households where mental health is difficult to talk about, not making CAPS intrinsically part of school tuition makes it impossible to ask for help without the Bruin Bill notification for the service appearing on the portal and thus becoming available for third party viewers to see. This then discourages many from reaching out in fear of the repercussions of others finding out. Raising tuition for any reason is a hard action to sell, but for the wellbeing of UCLA’s community, it is an essential one.

The pandemic has made it more apparent than ever that people need mental health professionals. UCLA must respond to this need in their vulnerable student body in order to maintain the safety of their student population as a whole. If UCLA aims to uphold their reputation as an open-minded, premier public university, they need to put their money where their mouth is and expand the on-campus resources available to students by making it free no matter what services are requested, faster to access, and in-person. Although not everyone in LA fits into the categories I believed they would, I wasn’t completely wrong to assert that a significant portion of this community are vegans and in need of therapy. UCLA has placated the former with BPlate—now it’s time to fulfill the needs of the latter by making CAPS a truly accessible tool for all who choose to use it.

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