September 17, 2002

Rise in Mental Health Care Means Long Gannett Lines

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As a result of the nationwide trend in the increasing demand for mental health treatment, students seeking services at Gannett’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) may have to wait up to two weeks to see counselors and therapists.

Though students requiring urgent mental health care are seen immediately, students scheduling routine appointments can expect a two-week wait.

Up to 50 percent of appointments are held open each day for urgent care, and students scheduling appointments for general medical care are usually seen within a week, said Nianne VanFleet, associate director of University Health Services.

Medications

Students waiting to receive prescribed psychotropic medications may experience longer waits than students needing antibiotics for an ear infection because Gannett asks CAPS patients to meet with a therapist before seeing a medication-prescribing psychiatrist.

Nhan D. Ngo ’04 said that she is usually seen within a couple days of calling in to make a general medical appointment.

“The longest I’ve ever had to wait was two weeks for a routine appointment, but I have also just walked in and I was seen right away, no wait at all,” she said.

VanFleet said that seeking mental help is a lot more acceptable today compared to years in the past, which accounts for the increased number of cases each year.

In 1995, there were 8,327 visits related to mental health treatment, according to Philip Meilman, director of counseling and psychological services. In 2001, the number of mental health related visits increased to 14,124, Meilman said.

Though the proliferation of cases is significant, the demand for mental health services is not unique to Cornell, according to Meilman.

“Employee assistance programs, high school and middle school counseling, not just colleges, are struggling to meet the demand for services,” he said.

One anonymous student seeking services from CAPS was told he would have to wait two weeks to see a primary care therapist and then another two weeks to see a psychiatrist who could prescribe the medication he needed to refill.

“That’s a combined total of four weeks for someone to take a look at my specific concern,” he said, emphasizing his need to have his prescription refilled.

However, some students may be confusing the two-week wait for routine appointments with the time it takes for Gannett to respond to medical emergencies. Even at the “peak season” between midterms and finals, “if there is an emergency, we’ll drop what we’re doing to take care of it” Meilman said.

“We don’t let things wait that need immediate care,” he said.

However, Meilman noted a condition such as a “well-controlled, well-maintained bipolar disorder does not represent an emergency situation and we would likely schedule a routine intake appointment in such a case,” thus the possible two week wait.

“But if there is an emergency situation involving someone with a bipolar disorder — for example a worrisome manic episode — then we would see that person for a counseling appointment immediately and a psychiatric appointment the same day as well,” Meilman said.

In comparison to other college mental health centers, however, the “response time is about the same … but compared to the Ithaca community, in many cases it is better,” Meilman said regarding long waits for counseling appointments.

“We prescribe medications in the context of therapy,” Meilman said. “To simply prescribe medications without fully understanding the life context of the individual wouldn’t be appropriate care.”

If for any reason a student chooses to see a provider in the community, “Gannett has a referral manager who can help facilitate a connection with a community provider,” said Sharon Dittman, associate director of University health services and community relations.

Though the wait to see a counselor at CAPS is approximately two weeks, “If you wanted to see a psychiatrist in Ithaca, it could take as long as six to eight weeks to get an initial appointment,” Meilman said.

If students want to come in sooner than a scheduled appointment, Meilman said that they can call to see if there are cancellations. “If there is no availability today, it doesn’t mean the same is true tomorrow.”


Archived article by Janet Liao