By Natalie Alden
The Counseling And Psychological Services (CAPS) at Saint Mary’s help students deal with various different mental health issues such as eating disorders, trauma, homesickness, relationship issues, different aspects of identity, and most commonly anxiety and depression. Given that this is the first year students are back on campus after a year online, students may feel more anxious with the multitude of changes as a result of the pandemic. Cynthia Cutshall, the associate director of clinical services and operations/outreach coordinator of CAPS, has seen just that. The CAPS office has recorded double the number of students coming in for mental health issues so far this academic year than before Covid-19.
More students have reported to reach out to the CAPS office with issues of anxiety than any other year prior, according to Cutshall. She says that students are happy to be back on campus but the growing anxiety of students has been apparent from the start. Cutshall states, “We have had twice as many students come into our office these first few weeks of school than before the pandemic. It’s exacerbated.”
Cutshall explains that having an influx of students during the first few weeks of the school year can be typical, however, this has been unusually busy for counselors at CAPS with the large number of students seeking help for their mental health. This statistic does not surprise Makenzie O’Neil, a psychology professor at Saint Mary’s. This growing number of students seeking mental health help could be due to a couple of different things. O’Neil states, “People are more likely to talk to and seek help. The pandemic has had a negative impact on people's mental health, however, it cannot boil down to one specific reason.”
More students may be more willing in 2021 than years prior to seek help for their mental health because of the growing acceptance of therapy and mental health in the past year. Cutshall shares, “Students are more open to coming to our office to talk to us about their mental health because the stigma around therapy has gotten better.” Cutshall also notes that although each year the number of students utilizing CAPS has increased, this year the number of students seeking help for their mental health has doubled from 2019. “People are afraid of their well-being especially at a time like this”, O’Neil states.
The CAPS office has also noticed that most of the students they are seeing come in for anxiety and depression. “Definitely the most common mental health issue students have come in for so far this semester has been anxiety and depression,” Cutshall shares. This spike in students seeking out CAPS could also be due to a year of attending classes remotely. O’Neil echoes that point by mentioning that the “Challenges of shifting to online learning can be isolating and cause stress.”
Although the CAPS office reports that they have seen a major influx of students in comparison to previous years before Covid-19, Cutshall reinforces that students are more optimistic than pessimistic. Cutshall states, “Students report to be doing much better being back in person. Attendance at outreach events is much higher.” According to Cutshall, the CAPS office is feeling good about students' outlook on the year ahead, now being back in person, but is encouraging students to pace themselves when integrating back to in-person learning to help students not feel overwhelmed. Professor O’Neil also states that “Humans are social species, removing that has had its impact.”
In terms of looking ahead for the CAPS office, Cutshall is hoping for the best after Covid-19 layoffs in her department. “I would like to see CAPS fully staffed again, have a psychiatrist on staff to prescribe medication, and to have more outreach programs,” shares Cutshall. Being fully staffed again seems to be necessary considering the much larger number of students are using CAPS in a post pandemic year than ever before.
Melanie Moyer '22,