Mental Health Support on College Campuses: What Parents Need to Know

Most larger universities like Indiana University (close to where my office is located) have health programs called CAPS which stands for Counseling and Psychological Service. They are often staffed with licensed therapists/counselors and psychiatrists with a range of experience and expertise. Their primary goal is to act as a stabilizing resource for most mental/behavioral health or substance use issues. Many university CAPS typically offer individual, group and couples counseling along with occassional free workshops. Here’s the list from IU CAPS on what they typical help with:

  • Academic Concerns
  • Relationship Concerns
  • Stress Management
  • Power and Privilege
  • Time Management Help
  • Sleeping Issues
  • Adjusting to College Life
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Substance Use
  • Body Image, Eating, and Exercise Concerns
  • Sexual Assault or Abuse

They have the same confidentiality requirements as counselors like me off campus but are limited in many ways. CAPS limits the number of unpaid sessions (IU CAPS allows for two) and mandates that a student must be working with one of their counselors if they want to meet with a psychiatrist for medication management/evaluation. Here’s a breakdown of IU CAPS fees:

COUNSELING  With IU Health Fee  W/O IU Health Fee
First two sessions (per semester) No charge $55 per session
Additional full sessions $30 per session $55 per session
Additional half sessions $20 per half session $35 per half session
Additional group counseling $15 per 60 min. session

$17 per 90 min. session

$29 per 60 min. session

$35 per 90 min. session

PSYCHIATRY
First visit $55 $105
Follow-up visit $30 per visit $55 per visit

IU CAPS does not accept insurance but does provide a super detailed invoice to be submitted to a student’s insurance company for reimbursement.
Over the last few years, I’ve noticed many CAPS programs around the country have had a huge increase in demand for their services while also having budget cuts or mediocre increases that leave them without the full team of professionals they need for each semester. At IU CAPS, every one counselor is responsible for 2,110 students (yikes!). This is not a new problem at IU and not isolated to IU.

So what can a parent or student do? If CAPS doesn’t seem like a good option, look for a therapist/counselor convenient to campus who specializes in college students. Therapists should be flexible to accommodate busy course loads and social events. In my practice, I have extended evening and weekend hours since many students a slammed with class 9-4pm most days. It’s also important that the therapist be willing to talk with parents and provide updates and suggestions. Parents can sometimes feel like their kids are a million miles away. A good therapist can often act as a bridge and lower the anxiety associated with having kids at school.

Finally, talk with CAPS (or encourage your son or daughter to) the first week of school. It’s easier to cancel an appointment than to stand in line after all the students are back on campus. The intake process should be thorough and your kid shoul feel like the therapist/counselor will really understand their issues and help.

Spring Semester Planning for Kids Returning to College

You made it! The kids made it home, the in-laws were tolerable and there weren’t a ton of gifts that needed returning. Now that everyone is headed back to campus, it’s time to either let that old anxiety creep in or spend some time on the front end helping your son or daughter develop a plan to be successful for Spring Semester.

Money

If you have not learned by now, discuss how much you are giving to your kid and when you’ll give it to them. You don’t want to find yourself in a defensive position Sunday night while your son is blowing up your phone begging for their regular spending money to be put into their account early. I recommend putting money into the account 2x/month. Put it on them to create a budget which factors in their books, fun money and any other expenses. I also recommend a limit is set for any credit cards and deciding who and when it will be paid off.

Organization

Talk about starting the semester off with everything in it’s place – clothing, car, computer. Let’s make sure everything is reviewed, updated and ready to go. While we’re at it, let’s pull up the calendar and start looking into the future to see when things will need to be re-updated. Get the oil change scheduled, even if it’s two months out. Get the printer cartridge in your Amazon Wish List so that you can move it to the cart quickly when your printer gives you a frowny face.

Scheduling

Speaking of calendars, let’s go ahead and talk scheduling more in-depth. I recommend to every college student they use the following strategy: Get all your syllabi, Put all dates for tests, papers, office hours, etc on your calendar. For tests, count back from the test date one week and put schedule study times (no longer than 90 min). Do the same for papers. Break down writing the paper into reasonable and realistic chunks of time and put them on your calendar. Theme: Put everything on your calendar, everything. If your son or daughter are in greek life, there are a ton of events that can be put on the calendar. Same with internships or study abroad – break down all the details so that you can see things from 10,000 ft.

Travel/Visiting Home

Plan out whatever travel including home visits your kid will have mor might have. If travel plans are only possible and not 100%, put a question mark after it so at least everyone knows that period of time is possibly accounted for.

GPA 

If your kid’s GPA got beatin up a bit in the Fall, it’s probably a good idea to identify a reasonable expectation for the Spring. If your son or daughter limped home with C’s and D’s, ask what is a realistic GPA for which to aim. Talk about it but make it clear there needs to be something concrete. . Along with identifying a GPA to aim for, talk about specific strategies that will be used to support them. All colleges have student support and academic support options. For instance, here in Bloomington, Indiana University has a solid Academic Support Center with a ton of resources that work well for thousands of students struggling academically.

Graduation/End of Semester

Part of that schedule should also have details that show your finals and last day of classes. Put details about studying for finals, having family in town, etc. If your son or daughter is graduating, figure out details early in the semester since 1) things get crazy busy/expensive during graduation and 2) hotel rooms get sold-out.

On Campus Help

Besides hooking up with academic support, it’s not a bad idea to find a counselor/life coach that can act as liaison between home and school. This professional should provide regular updates to parents, meet and be available as often as needed. They should be well-versed in young adult issues like anxiety, depression and ADHD. Universities often have counseling centers on campus that provide individual counseling for about six sessions and then they refer to a community professional. They might have ideas about professionals near your kid’s school that can offer support.

Final bit of advice – trust your kids and trust the process. With a bit of planning, your kid’s semester will have highs and lows but ultimately, they’ll finish the semester better than they started it.