Availability of Mental Health Services
by Morgan LaMere | published Feb. 8th, 2021
Mental health services have always been difficult discussions on RIT’s campus.
Students have long petitioned for shorter wait times for appointments and more robust systems to assist students. These have included PawPrints petitions to increase funding for mental health on campus, and a Change.org petition aimed at RIT’s administration and also focusing on a lack of funding and counselors.
Since then, numerous initiatives — including a taskforce — have been instated to tackle these issues. While progress has been made, there are still further steps to take.
Forrest Ciminelli is a third year student in Digital Humanities and Social Sciences. During the Spring semester, before COVID-19, Ciminelli was having a difficult time and reached out to Counseling and Psychological Services (CaPS).
“I reached out to CaPS and set an appointment with them; they replied within a day, but the earliest opening was close to two months from now,” Ciminelli said.
During this time, his situation deteriorated, but he was able to get help by reaching out to friends and family. When the time for his appointment came around, he received an email an hour before the appointed meeting, canceling the session. Ciminelli was offered the next available appointment to reschedule, which was another month away, but decided not to go back.
“The bare minimum [for services] is when I ask for an appointment, I get an appointment; minimum would be in a timely fashion,” he said. “Considering what we pay, they are offering below the bare minimum.”
“The bare minimum [for services] is when I ask for an appointment, I get an appointment; minimum would be in a timely fashion."
However, David Reetz, the director for CaPS mentioned that the department never got two months out on appointments.
“Students are given the next available appointment, if it’s an emergency we’ll see them right away,” he said. “The cancellation can certainly happen, everyone has lives where things come up.”
CaPS has no waitlist, so that means students who have cancellations are given the next available appointment. However, more immediate crises can be handled by their office, same-day urgent providers and a 24/7 mental health hotline — all of which are relatively new services.
Reetz asserts that the timeframe before a first appointment ranges from the next day to next week, becoming two to four weeks out when the semester gets busier; it is possible Ciminelli's delay was a front desk error.
Appointments can be made over the phone, during walk-in or through the health portal based on students' comfort levels. During initial contact, the best type of service is determined and students undergo depression and anxiety screenings.
“We have a short-term treatment model — otherwise we’d only be able to serve a tiny number of students,” Reetz explained. “I feel proud ... we’ve served 2,300 students last year."
If it’s determined students need more assistance, they are commonly referred to case management.
Dr. Wendy Gelbard is the associate vice president of Wellness within RIT Student Affairs, which the Case Management Department falls under.
Common issues students face with outside therapy include cost and accessibility issues. Gelbard’s department can assist students in finding insurance. If the student does not have access to a car, they help find providers along common bus lines.
“We try to tailor it for what works for students,” she said. “We don’t make calls and set up appointments, but we assist in doing so; we teach students how to find these systems on their own.”
Gelbard explained that as seeking mental health assistance is becoming more normalized, more students arriving on campus are accustomed to receiving frequent visits. While on-campus services simply don’t have the resources for that, Gelbard helps make sure students' urgent needs are met while figuring out a long-term plan that doesn’t involve months of waiting.
A part of this is providing students with wellness programs and services. The focus is on creating classes to resonate with every single student to lead them on the path of better health and wellbeing.
“Our opportunity is to take that audience and help teach them about good sleep, hygiene, nutrition and exercise that makes you more able to cope for things that might otherwise throw you for a loop,” Gelbard explained.
The Impact of COVID-19
While difficult before, COVID-19 has only made finding mental health services more difficult for students while the need is greater.
“Living off campus for the first time has been difficult. There’s nowhere to go and nothing to do, so all of this together means that the academic experience has been [detrimental],” Ciminelli said.
While the pass/fail option has existed for students throughout 2020, many students have still suffered and had their future impacted.
In addition, there are only a select few recharge days scheduled into the Spring semester of 2021, and spring break is eliminated entirely to protect students. However, this move has seemingly still caused harm.
“We’re planning on skipping classes for two days [March 8 and 9] … stay home and have recharge days," Ciminelli said.
During this time, Reetz, Gelbard and their departments have been kept active. The first step for them both was finding training for their counselors to perform secure telehealth services through the American Psychological Association. For students without a secure space to talk, CaPS opened up private rooms on campus.
Reetz has also taken part in in implementing different support groups and events shared via the message center. For more urgent issues, the counseling center still has walk-in hours.
Despite these improvements, there are those who slip between the cracks, like in Ciminelli’s case and students who continue to have negative experiences. Mental health providers on campus continue to provide the best services they can, despite limitations created by their budgets.
CaPS is always looking to improve upon these cases, and one of the ways is breaking down the barriers that still exist. This includes reaching out to those who feel like their situation is manageable without therapy, don't know about CaPS or may not have the time.
Other students, he mentioned, didn’t have a good experience and share that with other students who then don’t want to go themselves.
“About 90 percent of students have a positive experience, but we can improve on that 10 percent, we don’t grow from focusing on what we do well,” Reetz stated.
As for Gelbard, she’s found that students often aren’t aware of what her department and CaPS have to offer.
“If any student has a need or desire that’s unmet, they should reach out to us,” Gelbard said. “Chances are we have something that would meet those needs, and if not, we will look into creating it.”
Appointments and more information can be found through the CaPS and Wellness websites.