MSUToday
Published: Nov. 18, 2019

As counseling services expand, employees play key role in supporting students

Contact(s): Jason Cody University Communications office: (517) 432-0924 cell: (734) 755-0210 Jason.Cody@cabs.msu.edu

The significant expansion of counseling and mental health resources for MSU students has led to a dramatic increase in the use of those services, and campus officials stress that more students in distress need vital support.

In the first three weeks of the fall 2019 semester, MSU’s Counseling and Psychiatric Services saw a 41% increase in the number of unique students using its services compared with the same time in fall 2018.

“The increase reflects that students are more willing to seek out our services,” CAPS Director Mark Patishnock said. “We know if we build a robust, effective program, they will come.”

CAPS, created in 2017 with the merging of the MSU Counseling Center and the Olin Psychiatry Clinic, serves as the main resource on campus for students seeking help for a wide range of concerns, including depression, stress, anxiety, gender identity and sexual orientation, trauma, body image concerns and other mental health concerns. Since the 2017 merge, CAPS has more than doubled the number of counseling staff and greatly expanded services.

Faculty and staff across campus play a key role in connecting students to needed services, said Patishnock, who added employees are often a key referral source for students.

“Our students may experience a great deal of stress,” he said. “Some students find that stress and pressure unmanageable or unbearable. Faculty members and staff play a crucial role in identifying students who are in distress and assisting them to find the available resources.”

CAPS has set up a website, caps.msu.edu/faculty-staff, that provides resources for employees, from identifying students in distress to incorporating classroom strategies such as adding resource information to a class syllabus. Patishnock said that many across the university were involved in this effort.

Talitha Easterly, who serves as assistant director of outreach, multicultural initiatives and student engagement for CAPS, said since faculty and staff spend so much time around students, they often can be the first to notice changes in behavior.

“We want MSU employees to build connections with students, which allows them to develop a baseline,” she said. “Are you noticing behavior changes? Changes in attendance and class performance? Those can be risk factors.”

Depending on the behavior or type of stress identified, different levels of service are available. One of the most innovative changes the past year has been the introduction of an Intensive Clinical Services Unit that specializes in providing support to students in need of a higher level of care than traditional outpatient therapy or psychiatric services.

“We have such a large campus and many students in distress,” said Dr. Gail Anderson, assistant director for Intensive Clinical Services, who leads the unit. “The mental health support systems at most universities are set up like outpatient care, but we realized we needed a higher level of care to address high frequencies of suicidal urges, self-harm, complex issues and other risk factors.”

The ICSU offers short-term mental health treatment services, lasting up to about 16 weeks, and includes intensive therapy, advocacy, medication management and most importantly, a holistic approach to integrated care. The program is also set up to adapt to student needs with flexibility regarding scheduling and service types and frequency.

“Disparate health outcomes significantly affect our underrepresented populations,” Anderson said. “Many of our students live with multiple burdens and mental health concerns, and that requires relational and holistic solutions so we can help a student navigate their academics and relationships more effectively.”

Over the past year, CAPS also has added several other vital programs:

  • In September, CAPS Connect was introduced at 15 locations across campus, including in most of MSU’s colleges and student support areas. The program offers a brief consultation for students who can drop in during a scheduled time. It also allows CAPS staff to meet students and employees where they are, Easterly said.
  • Since summer, CAPS offers an afterhours/weekends crisis phone service for students, provided by ProtoCall, a company working with 240 university counseling centers nationwide. It is staffed by trained behavioral health professionals, offering after-hours crisis stabilization and de-escalation services when CAPS is closed.
  • CAPS introduced a new Suicide Prevention and Response Training Ally Network program, which just provided training to more than 400 resident assistants on campus.
  • Via a partnership with Psych Hub, CAPS now hosts more than 100 brief informational videos about a host of mental health topics.

For more information on available resources and services, visit caps.msu.edu.