Accessibility and CAPS

For the past week or so, I’ve been staring at a sticky note on my desk that says, “Call CAPS for ADHD testing.” I have not done that yet. This lack of action may be a manifestation of behaviors that I believe could be a result of having ADHD. Let me explain.

Over winter break (also known as the only break we get this term), a conversation about ADHD seemed to be quite prevalent on social media, or at least, that’s what my algorithms decided to show me. I noticed that many people with ADHD experienced things that I often find myself dealing with. Being a 21st century individual, I know that the internet is not any kind of replacement for a diagnosis from a real professional, so I didn’t jump to any conclusions. I cannot definitively say that I have ADHD, but based on experiences people have shared, and behavior patterns that they find themselves engaging in, I found myself wanting to at least go through some testing. 

Well lucky me, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) offers free ADHD assessments for all Hope students! I’ll just send them a quick email to schedule an assessment for once we get back to campus, and…. Oh. What’s this? Does CAPS not have an email address? 

I thought I was going crazy. Surely CAPS is reachable by email. Surely, during a global pandemic when everything has been transitioned into online-only appointments, the service that provides therapy and mental health intervention has been made as accessible as possible. Right? 

Wrong. CAPS, in fact, does not have an email address. Ok. Well then how do I reach them? Their website says, “To make an appointment: Call our office (616.395.7945) to schedule a time to speak to a CAPS staff counselor.” Ok, I have to call. That means I’ll have to wait until classes start back up and offices reopen. At least I have a plan. 

But now we’re back on campus, we’ve been here for four weeks, and I still haven’t called them. I look at my yellow post-it and think “I don’t really want to call them today. I’ll do it tomorrow.” But then, as Bo Burnham says, “Tomorrow comes and it’s still today. Tomorrow’s a relative term, we’re not getting there.” 

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that I am an adult who is capable of making a phone call and talking to a real person to schedule an appointment that I would probably benefit from; it isn’t CAPS’ fault that calling someone on the phone to make an appointment makes my hands visibly shake for 20 minutes, but I would think that the campus resource for mental health would at least account for helping people with some social anxiety issues. Even President Scogin has a Hope email address. In theory, I can reach the president of the college more easily than I can reach an essential service like CAPS. 

Frankly, this email address fiasco is a symptom of a much larger problem with CAPS. The system would still be imperfect or, at its worst, counterproductive, even if they announced next week, “We fixed it! You can email us now!” 

I reached out to a student, who wished to remain anonymous, with a less than ideal past experience with CAPS. I’ll let them speak for themselves:

“I reached out to CAPS last winter when I was having some pretty bad anxiety-related mental health issues. I had to call because they don’t have an email and I really don’t love talking to people on the phone, hence the anxiety. I called anyway and they asked if I was ‘in crisis,’ which I responded no to, but I wasn’t doing great. They then told me I could get an appointment in three weeks, which was way farther away than I was hoping. I waited the three weeks, went in for my appointment and [my counselor] was very impersonal and seemed uninterested/unconcerned about me and my issues. [They] asked a few questions and took some notes but made me feel uncomfortable about the whole thing. [They] then told me [they] would reach out through email to tell me about next steps, but [they] never did. And I didn’t hear back from anyone at CAPS even after telling [my counselor] about my mental health issues. I definitely did not feel supported and the negative experience actually turned me away from getting therapy until very recently.” 

Not only is CAPS not as accessible as it should be, but even when people who are seeking counseling wait three weeks to go to an appointment, the service itself makes students feel unheard and uncomfortable. 

I will acknowledge that it’s unfair to blame the scheduling problem on CAPS as an organization; they don’t have control over how much funding they receive, and thus they aren’t in control over how many counselors they employ and how many appointments they can book in a day, week, month or year. CAPS can’t hire more counselors to serve more students if they don’t have the proper funding to do so. I’m sure a number of people go into that budget-making process, so it’s a mystery to me where the fault lies. If administrators want CAPS to be a genuinely helpful and accessible resource, and if Hope College wants to be able to say that mental health is really a priority, there need to be more counselors so more students can receive help. 

I think CAPS could be an amazing resource for students. With increased accessibility, both in terms of communication and increased availability, students would see the value in CAPS and would be more likely to visit. As someone who wants to be a therapist, I think therapy is for everybody; a good therapist can bring insight and counsel to anybody, not only those in a “crisis,” which, in the mental health world, is hard to define anyway. 

I keep looking at this post-it note on my desk, telling me to make a call, an appointment. I wonder if it’s even worth it. I wonder if they would even have time for me. 

Eli ('23) is a senior from Noblesville, Indiana currently working as a Co-Editor-in-Chief for the Anchor. He is a psychology major with minors in classics and writing. In addition to working at the Anchor he is a writing assistant at the Klooster Center for Excellence in Writing and the SARD of Cook Hall. After his time at Hope, he plans to further his education and become a therapist.

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