With a new injection of recently approved funding, Stanford University's Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) plans to increase its staff by five in the next academic year. The expansion comes amid increased student complaints this year about long wait times and sometimes insufficient mental health support.
CAPS is part of the Office of Student Affairs, which approved additional funds that will allow the office to hire three additional full-time counselors.
When students call CAPS, they are immediately asked a series of questions by an anonymous staff person who asks them personal questions, including about their sexual orientation, if they've ever been sexually assaulted or if they are thinking about harming themselves. CAPS has a "I Need to Talk to Someone Now" 24/7 phone line as well as a dedicated sexual assault hotline.
Students said at a town hall on CAPS in February that this initial phone call the gateway to getting an appointment is often uncomfortable and impersonal. And then they might be told that the next available appointment isn't for up to three weeks, students said.
"If you built up the courage to actually call CAPS that means you need something right at that moment," student Nicole Doumeng said. "Overcoming the huge stigma of admitting to a problem is hard enough, but then being told you have to wait three weeks before you can see someone is really unacceptable. It feels like my problem is being dismissed as not that important and I end up struggling with stigma again."
Other students reported being connected with "temporary staff" or "in-residence trainees" rather than fully qualified psychiatrists and being deeply unsatisfied with the treatment they provided.
CAPS Director Ron Albucher said at the town hall that longer wait times this year were in part due to an unusual and unexpected amount of staff turnover.
University spokeswoman Lisa Lapin told the Weekly it is not possible to gauge an average wait time for a CAPS appointment because "cases are handled on an individual basis and vary widely depending upon the nature of the student concern."
When asked to speak to the student reports of long wait times at CAPS this year, Lapin said: "Students have many options for mental health support. CAPS is one avenue, in addition to mental health services that may be provided through students' health care plans, Cardinal Care, or other private providers."
Lapin also explained that budget proposals for the next year begin in the previous fall, so the proposals for CAPS funding were made to the university's Budget Committee "well before student conversation about CAPS began." CAPS was notified in March that the funding was approved, effective Sept. 1.
CAPS is also in the process of hiring two full-time psychologists with experience working with Native American and African American student populations, according to this job posting.
At a campus sexual-assault rally last October and in other forums, students of color have called for more counselors of color. A group of about 20 black female students carried signs that read "Black women's lives matter," and "We want to talk about black C.A.P.S. (Counseling and Psychological Services) counselors."
One of the two new hires' core duties, along with emergency triage, referrals and campus outreach, will be to "provide comprehensive outpatient mental health services and programs to a diverse student population with a specific focus on clinical and outreach services to the African American or Native American student community," the job posting reads.
One of the Associated Students of Stanford University's (ASSU) top "executive initiatives" this year was to focus on student mental health and emotional well-being, which included creating and disseminating a survey that showed a high demand for CAPS but low satisfaction with its services. According to the Stanford Daily, more than 50 percent of the 1,500 respondents (both undergraduate and graduate students) said that they or a friend had used CAPS, but only 29 percent of those who had used CAPS were satisfied with the number of appointments they received, according to the ASSU. Thirty-two percent were satisfied with the wait time between appointments.