In the first week of the Spring semester, Counseling and Psychological Services sent the campus community an email update on Swarthmore College’s mental health resources. The email, titled “C.A.P.S. Update,” shared how C.A.P.S. will implement changes to more effectively and equitably respond to the broad range of mental health needs of the Swarthmore community. C.A.P.S. highlighted the fact that there have been significant increases in request for services for the past several years, which is the main reason behind the implementation of these new changes. Members of Swarthmore’s community, however, have had mixed feelings about the direction C.A.P.S. is taking.
C.A.P.S. sent a follow-up email that included a flyer detailing an example of one part of their expanded offerings. The flyer, titled “Therapy Skills for the Whole Student,” details six different space-limited sessions that C.A.P.S. will be hosting during the spring semester to help students manage any challenges they might encounter at Swarthmore. The session topics include Managing Procrastination, Managing Anxiety Thru Breath, Managing Anxiety with your Body, Tackling your Inner Critic, Tackling Fatigue, and Surviving Distress.
Some students believe such sessions could be helpful to an extent; there is, however, frustration that C.A.P.S.’ staff was not expanded instead.
According to Frank Kenny ’20, the workshops do have some advantages.
“These auxiliary workshops would be really good [because] people can broaden their scope of tools available to regulate their mental health,” said Kenny.
However, he notes that there are still visible issues.
“I’m a senior. I’ve been here for four years now so the general consensus on campus has been that C.A.P.S. is limited. But as much as people complain, I really do think [people’s anger with C.A.P.S.] needs to go higher and there needs to be change made to the highest administration level,” added Kenny.
Sierra Sweeney ’21 expressed a similar view to Kenny, emphasizing the need for the administration to act, especially given the building pressure on C.A.P.S. to expand mental health services within the past few years.
“Having group sessions that teach you breathing techniques are helpful … [but] I don’t think anything can replace one-on-one, private counseling,” said Sweeney. “And it’s also a group environment which can be uncomfortable — like it’s not going to help if you need … something private like that.”
Additionally, Sweeney thought the wording of C.A.P.S.’s emails imbued an unsettling tone. She specifically had issues with the final line of the first email.
“We encourage [students] to keep in mind that C.A.P.S. is a shared community resource,” it read.
Sweeney shared her worries over how that type of language could discourage a student from seeking mental health services.
“It makes you question whether you actually need counseling or whether you’re deserving enough to take up space — that’s not a question that you should [make] students ask themselves,” said Sweeney.
Both Kenny and Sweeney made clear that the administration needs to make headway in regards to student demand for mental health services. Katie Reeves ’22, chair of the student life committee in Swarthmore’s Student Government Organization, has met with David Ramirez, director of counseling and psychological services, as a part of her efforts to improve student life at Swarthmore. Reeves shed some light on the administration’s role in expanding and improving C.A.P.S.
“I think the key thing that people get confused by is that C.A.P.S. made a request for X percent increase in their budget. And so the administration granted them an increase in budget, but not the full amount that they asked for,” said Reeves.
Reeves shared how the Student Life committee has wanted to engage in projects with C.A.P.S. to better the mental health situation at the collegeSwarthmore, but that C.A.P.S. and her committee simply do not have the funds to make long-term changes. In an attempt to cater to student’s mental health needs in the short term, Reeves’ committee, in collaboration with David Ramirez, established a project to bring dogs to campus every other Sunday.
Reeves is pleased by the recent C.A.P.S. update.
“I was happy to see that they were making their resources more transparent, because I think a lot of the time students aren’t sure what’s available for them,” said Reeves.
She upholds, however, that there is a huge gap between the mental health resources that students need versus the ones they receive. The Student Life Committee will be hosting a Town Hall Feb. 11 with C.A.P.S. and Dean of Student Jim Terhune in an attempt to bridge that gap and provide students with the opportunity to share their comments and questions.
Reeves is not the only student who has been working with C.A.P.S. to improve mental health at Swarthmore. Since last Spring, Hussain Zaidi ’22 has been trying to specifically improve mental health services for queer students. Zaidi established the Swarthmore Students for Improved Health Care System, which had the goal of advocating for queer student needs in connection to mental health. Although that collective has since disbanded, Zaidi’s work has been translated into the Swarthmore Queer Union — whose first meeting was Tuesday, Feb. 4 — of which he is the president. An example of Zaidi’s plans to affirm queer students and support their mental health through the Swarthmore Queer Union includes an initiative to increase the number of gender-neutral bathrooms on campus.
In terms of the recent C.A.P.S. update, Zaidi is appreciative of the fact that action is being taken, but also hesitant. He wants to ensure that the sessions C.A.P.S. will be hosting will not be used to gloss over the mental health situation at Swarthmore.
“When any organization shows some awareness and acknowledgement [of the sessions] and proposes solutions … I feel like it’s really good as stepping stones to make people hopeful about stuff that can happen. At the same time … it’s not an excuse to forget about the existing issues within C.A.P.S.,” said Zaidi.
In addition, Zaidi shared how he thought limiting the number of students who can attend such group sessions feels apathetic.
“Healing mentally isn’t just going to counseling — it needs to be in spaces where you feel comfortable [and] where you can talk to people [that] you have shared experiences [with],” Zaidi further stated.
Sweeney echoed Zaidi’s sentiment. She suggests that therapy could be especially helpful among students of color and athletes.
“I don’t know why we don’t have more of a community that utilizes therapy in different aspects,” said Sweeney. “I really like the fact that we have an athletic therapist now, I think that’s a really smart idea. I think athletics in general needs a specific space because it’s a high stress situation that can lead to a number of mental issues.”
Students generally seem receptive to the recent C.A.P.S. update. They are not, however, satisfied. Students have made clear that there is still much work to be done, especially considering, as Sweeney pointed out, this generation’s recognition of the value of mental health services.
“Clearly [C.A.P.S. is] a resource that the [administration] needs to dedicate more money and people to,” said Sweeny.
Kenney believes that C.A.P.S. should go further by hiring psychiatrists who can prescribe students with medication and provide students with better off-campus referrals. All in all, it appears that students want and expect more from both C.A.P.S. and the administration — whether that “more” be an expansion of C.A.P.S.’ staff or an improvement in the way C.A.P.S. functions already.