Mental health resources evolve to support the changing needs of UC San Diego students.
When Reina Juarez first arrived at UC San Diego in August 1988, she was the first woman of color to serve as director of mental health services within the University of California system. Over the past three decades, she has grown Counseling and Psychological Services, or CAPS, from a staff of 13 to more than 40 psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, psychiatrists and post-doctoral residents who serve the campus’ growing student population, now 40,000 strong.
Like all of us, our students have been challenged by the ongoing pandemic and global issues. How are they doing?
One of the echoes of the pandemic is heightened mental health concerns, from more anxiety and depression to substance abuse and eating disorders. Just living in this volatile, unpredictable world, we have to be constantly on our toes, adjusting and readjusting. The good thing is that our students are reaching out and they are open to using resources. We find that students are attending both in-person as well as virtual offerings, from connecting one-on-one with CAPS counselors through video visits, to attending interactive workshops and engaging with self-guided programs.
What are the unique mental health needs of our graduate and professional students?
Similar to undergraduates, our graduate and professional students must navigate academic relationships with their faculty advisors and principal investigators. However, their journey presents unique needs because they are at a different stage in their life; for instance, some are married with a family and have more financial concerns. Their academic programs are longer as well, with motivation and confidence levels rising and falling over time. In addition, graduate and professional students may face isolation if their field is highly specialized. For all of these life circumstances, we are there to help.
Beyond providing individual counseling, how does CAPS connect with the university community through preventative education?
On nearly any day of the week, students can participate in a community forum, join a workshop or talk to a graduate and professional student well-being associate. One of our newest forums is the Trans and Gender Diverse Group, where students can explore their thoughts and feelings related to gender identity in a supportive, community-building environment. And we recently launched Tritons Rise, which are daily workshops that incorporate topics such as meditation, behavioral activation, academic success strategies and other foundations of well-being. In addition, CAPS has partnered with UC San Diego Athletics to support scholar-athletes and coaches with targeted training and therapy sessions.
How does the growing CAPS team reflect the diversity of the campus population?
University campuses are enclaves of diverse communities and human systems, and it is important to have mental health providers that parallel our student population. We strive to have staff who know what students are experiencing based on their lived experiences, rather than relying on students to explain. Mental health providers can also serve as role models to our students; they can see people who look like them making a difference as healers and people that empower, mentor and advocate for them. We are delighted to have recently hired several new providers who focus on
the Black and LGBTQ+ student experience.
You have led CAPS for three decades; how has it evolved over time?
There is less of a stigma associated with students seeking mental health services. Our students today are more likely to reach out for help than they were in the past. I believe this is due to the changing attitudes around mental health, but also because we have transformed our care to be more culturally responsive. We also make connecting easy. When the pandemic hit, we had already launched a telehealth platform in January 2020 that enabled us to sustain services seamlessly as the campus went to distance learning. Our staff is also strategically positioned where students are, including each of the seven colleges, campus community centers, graduate student housing and Student Health Services, in addition to our central office in Galbraith Hall. We are here for our students, wherever and however they need us.