CAPS and COVID: Mental Health Services at Bates in a Pandemic

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Madeline Polkinghorn, Managing Editor

COVID-19 has triggered a meta-pandemic within itself: a mental health crisis unforseen in previous generations. While there exists little data so far on direct correlations between the COVID-19 pandemic and mental health related issues such as suicide, pandemic-related suicides have been recorded, and issues such as unemployment and social isolation have indisuputably contributed to feelings of depression and anxiety amongst people.

The Center for Disease Control published a study in June regarding increasing rates of mental health issues, substance abuse, and suicidal ideations amidst the pandemic. Beyond COVID, issues of pervasive racism – such as issues of violence and policy brutality – the United States can pose negative mental health outcomes for people of color. 

As such, mental health resources for Bates students have never been more necessary. The Bates Student spoke with Patty Dubois, Administrative Coordinator for Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), at Bates to discuss mental health care on campus. COVID has, of course, altered the ways in which mental health services are offered at Bates. “All of our services,” started Dubois, “are by video conferencing, no in-person appointments, and we do have some limitations as to how we can provide services to students studying remotely outside the state of Maine.” 

Because of licensing requirements for mental health practitioners, CAPS cannot provide regular mental health services to students studying remotely outside the state of Maine. However, students may utilize virtual consultation sessions to receive appropriate referrals, and the crisis line is always available to all students. 

For one sophomore woman, CAPS served as an important resource in easing her initial transition to college and reducing homesickness. All mental health services, however, are limited to an extent in how directly they can deal with students’ issues.

“The positives,” started the student, “are that it helps me reflect on how I’m doing and have my feelings validated and I don’t have to pretend I’m okay. Also CAPS provided me with a single which I needed for mental health and insomnia related issues which has made my experience much better. Drawbacks are that although I go there to talk about my problems… I feel like they don’t really have solutions, they just give me someone to talk to. I’ve only had one counselor but I feel like there’s not much she can do other than listen.” 

COVID has also appeared to increase the demands for counseling services on campus. CAPS offers one-on-one therapy, same-day appointments, crisis hours, and can provide medication management.  “We have definitely been very busy. There are always adjustments entering college life and I believe doing this during a pandemic has caused more reasons for stress.”

Jennifer Coseno ’24 said that she began meeting with a counselor at CAPS to help her manage the stress and anxiety of her new environment.

“So far it has been good for me to discuss what has been bothering me or stressing me out with someone other than my roommates or friends,” she said. “It has been important for me to have an adult to lean on.” She noted that she only sees CAPS once every two weeks since many students are using the service, but that it has been frequent enough for her needs.

Mary Richardson ‘22, a student who utilized CAPS services in the past, also had a positive experience with the services.

“I have received counseling services from CAPS starting in October of my first year at Bates until this past spring when we were dismissed in the wake of COVID. I met weekly with my therapist for a time, then reeled it in to biweekly sessions when I found myself doing better.”

For Richardson, the effects of COVID have been a strain on her psychological well-being. “The pandemic has greatly affected my mental health. About mid-April I had a phone call with my CAPS therapist where she suggested I enter outpatient treatment for my eating disorder. These past few months of treatment have been incredibly transformative and helpful, but I definitely believe that the pandemic increased my worries and behaviors around my body and food.”

Racialized trauma, which has only increased in intensity in 2020, has also served as a major concern regarding the wellbeing of BIPOC students on campus. “The CAPS staff recognizes the particular impact that current and historical events and the predominant whiteness of an institution such as Bates have on the mental health and well-being of students of color,” said Dubois. “We are a diverse team of providers who consistently engage in racial equity and social justice work within our department, and we encourage our students of color to consider making an appointment for individual therapy or a same-day consultation for extra support.” 

CAPS will also be partnering with the Office of Intercultural Education (OIE) to provide an informal consultation model called “Let’s Talk,” with details forthcoming. Despite the increasing awareness of mental health issues – particularly among youth – there exists pervasive stigma that frequently prevents people from seeking and receiving treatment. Dubois stressed that students should not allow this to deter them from seeking potentially life-saving care. 

“My advice would be: if you feel you need to speak to someone about how you are feeling, have questions or concerns about something you don’t understand, or even need some direction, please contact CAPS by either phone 207-786-6200 or email [email protected] We also have resources about managing the stressors of COVID on our website. We recognize this is a difficult and stressful time.”