The man who runs the university's mental health programs says he believes most students at the University of Richmond "are operating on a regular basis very close to their breaking point."
Dr. Peter LeViness, director of Counseling and Psychological Services, said he knew there were students on campus who never came to CAPS, but were functioning daily in in an unhealthy mental state.
"We would like to get them to lower that threshold so they're not so close to their breaking point," he said.
CAPS is currently in its second year of providing free online mental health screenings to students, but only a small number of students have taken the evaluations, and many remain unaware that the service is available.
The CAPS Web site offers multiple self-assessments, each designed to recognize a number of problems, which include depression, alcoholism, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety and post-traumatic stress.
CAPS pays an annual subscription fee to link to various evaluations on the Web, one of them being through mentalhealthscreening.org.
The organization's Web site describes the benefits of the surveys, saying that taking them "offers students a year-round venue to explore and identify symptoms of: mood and anxiety disorders/eating disorders/harmful and hazardous alcohol use and to seek timely and appropriate help from their counseling and health services centers."
With roughly one-third of Richmond students going to CAPS at least once during their four years at Richmond, LeViness said CAPS treated roughly 12 percent to 13 percent of the student body each year, including law school students. He said during the past six years that number had almost doubled, in correlation with a national trend.
"Some of it is the perfectionism pushing students hard," LeViness said. "As a culture, we're not good with self-care like sleep or exercise that helps prevent a lot of things."
Out of the entire population, college students are the most sleep deprived, he said, and he recommended everyone on campus should be making an effort to get seven to nine hours of sleep each night as well as exercising three to five days a week to stay mentally healthy.
LeViness said this year CAPS employees and interns were working hard to get the word out that the evaluations were great tools to analyze whether students were treating themselves well. Without any pressure, students can figure out anonymously whether they potentially have a problem, and then determine whether they should make a counseling appointment.
This year, about 185 surveys have been completed among the six different types that are offered. LeViness said that while CAPS had a breakdown of how many students had taken each assessment and what the results were, the numbers could be skewed based on data he collected from his staff members testing out the questions and students who take them for fun.
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He said the online evaluations were confidential. The most popular evaluations taken thus far have been the following, in order: general anxiety, depression and eating disorders. The majority of the students taking them have been women. For each exam, roughly half had negative results, an indication the students should speak to someone at CAPS.
LeViness said the exams were designed to be a little more receptive to possible issues to assure that they caught anyone who was potentially at risk. Therefore, there is some chance a student could have a high score and not be at risk.
A Westhampton College junior who took the depression assessment said although she could see why it could help some students, she didn't find it useful because she was already fairly sure she had a problem.
"I was sick of feeling constantly unhappy, and I wanted to make sure I had a legitimate reason to go in and speak to someone at CAPS," she said.
She added: "They were basic questions, and most of them focused on whether or not I'd had problems in the past. I mean, the whole reason I took the survey in the first place was because I thought I could be suffering from depression, so it wasn't helpful to answer questions that made me keep thinking, 'Well yeah, I think I'm depressed, that's why I'm taking the survey in the first place.'"
After confirming what she thought, the Westhampton student chose not to go to CAPS and considered going elsewhere. LeViness said if students would feel more comfortable seeking help off campus, CAPS could provide referrals. But he said students who chose to come to CAPS needed an average number of three and a half visits to help them through their issues.
"It depends on what's the nature of what's going on and what students are willing to do with it," he said. "We'll give them our opinion or advice, but even then we can't make someone come back.
"We would try to assess what's going on and then if we think the person can benefit from our help, we try to give them motivation to do something about their situation."
He said the majority of students usually came in with an average of four different concerns that were at the roots of their problems. The most common issues students have are relationship issues, depression, family concerns and post-traumatic stress.
Because the online exams offered an anonymous evaluation, LeViness recommended anyone take the assessments if he or she felt there was something getting in their way, if they're worried or anxious or especially if there was a family history of mental illness.
Most other institutions across the nation have a similar system of self-evaluation. A representative from Lasell College in Newton, Mass., was quoted on the Mental Health Screening Web site discussing the alcoholism assessment.
"It's a great non-threatening opportunity to have an 'educational moment' with young people who don't usually want to discuss their drinking habits, or who aren't comfortable making a formal office appointment," the Web site said.
LeViness said he was concerned for students who had high scores and chose not to visit CAPS, in addition to others at Richmond who may need only one more negative experience before reaching their mental limits. For many, if they don't seek help, these problems will continue after college because they won't get any easier in the "real" world, he said.
"It's a free country, so people don't have to get treatment if they don't want to," he said. "We would encourage them to, but they don't have to suffer without getting any help."
Contact staff writer Allie Artur at email@example.com
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