As the spring semester begins, students are adjusting to the life changes and course stress of being on campus again. Unfortunately, countless factors bring distress to students during this time of year.
Counseling and Psychiatric Services, or CAPS, strives to provide students with mental health services to optimize their physical and mental well-being in light of the challenges this semester can bring. The center can be found on Michigan State University’s campus on the third floor of the Olin Health Center.
Licensed psychologist and CAPS Director Mark Patishnock said students tend to feel overwhelmed this time of year, reporting significant levels of stress, anxiety, depression and isolation. These responses were compounded by the years of the pandemic and the responsibilities students had, along with the tragedies and losses many students endured.
“There's winter break holiday aftermath,” Patishnock said. “Some students tend to have additional stressful times because they're going to spend time with family members who they maybe haven't seen in a while ... they might not be quite the same person they were the last they have seen their family. There's usually a difference in views, politics, religion, or cultural backgrounds.”
Patishnock said January, February and March are months with an increased risk for suicide.
With an influx of students, challenges arise for CAPS. The office handles these challenges by prioritizing specific services. First up: Crisis services.
Along with short-term exchanges, CAPS provides 24/7 crisis resources like virtual crisis counseling. To access, students call (517) 355-8270 and press "1." There is also an alternative crisis line for sexual assault, at (517) 372-6666.
After crisis service, initial access is the next priority for CAPS staff. Students can visit the CAPS website for an initial consultation with a counselor.
"We really front-load our counseling staff, their resources and time into those services because we want to be available the moment a student asks for help,” Patishnock said.
With limited schedule time, CAPS has difficulty balancing the assistance for a large number of students. Since its opening in 2018, CAPS has experienced a 60% to 70% increase in students who've reached out for help. At any given time, 30% to 40% of all students that ask CAPS for help reported having suicidal thoughts in the last two weeks.
Free relationship counseling is also offered for two or more people to attain insight into each other and discover beneficial methods of communication.
CAPS also holds a diverse staff, letting students select preferences for the race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and religion of their counselor to allow maximum comfort.
CAPS Connect is a quick and free resource for all students to have brief conversations with a CAPS provider. Journalism sophomore Emma George-Griffin said her utilization of CAPS Connect was beneficial and provided guidance and resources MSU and the greater Lansing community provides.
“It was a little nerve-racking to go into a 15-minute consultation, because it's hard to be vulnerable with someone you don't know,” George-Griffin said. “But everyone there is kind, understanding and non-judgmental about whatever you're going through.”
CAPS also provides students with resources to connect with off-campus therapeutic or psychiatric care in their area.
“It was very helpful to get the services from CAPS and resources that I wouldn't have gotten if I hadn't gone to the counseling session,” George-Griffin said.
MSU Health and Wellbeing marketing and communications manager Elizabeth Carr encourages students to reach out for support when needed.
“Making that call is always a big step, and sometimes it can feel a little scary, but it is something we are so proud to see if you can make that jump,” Carr said. “My personal philosophy is that our minds are a part of our bodies and we have to take care of them.”