August 27, 2019

GUEST ROOM | Cornell Health Improves Access to Mental Health Services

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As the fall semester begins, we at Cornell Health are excited to introduce a new approach to our delivery of mental health services. Our goal is to support undergraduate, graduate and professional students in thriving at Cornell and achieving their academic and life goals.

In order to provide increased access to mental health care for our students, we now offer free, 25-minute, in-person counseling appointments that often can be scheduled as soon as the same day. These appointments focus on meeting the student’s immediate needs, and making a plan for next steps, when needed.

Students no longer schedule a brief assessment phone appointment as the first step to receiving care and instead can speak with a counselor in person as the need arises. This approach builds on the success of our existing easy-access, goal-focused services, including our Let’s Talk drop-in consultation and Behavioral Health Consultation programs, and is similar to models being used with success at an increasing number of other peer institutions.

Students in need of follow-up care can work with their counselor to determine the frequency and duration of future visits. Both 25-minute and 50-minute follow-up appointments are available. Counselors may also encourage students to take advantage of other CAPS offerings, such as group counseling and skills-based workshops, or may refer students to other campus resources or off-campus providers when appropriate.

In addition to providing more immediate in-person mental health services, we have implemented several other changes designed to improve the experience of students seeking care.

Responding to student feedback, we now offer greater flexibility in selecting a counselor. When scheduling a 25-minute counseling appointment, students can select the first available appointment or look for an appointment with a provider of their choosing. If students do not find a time or provider that meets their needs, they can call Cornell Health or come in to discuss options. After a first appointment with a provider, students can decide if they would like to see that provider again, or schedule an appointment with someone else. CAPS staff bios can be viewed on our website.

We have also expanded the support we offer to students through our primary care medical services. Students are encouraged to speak with their primary care provider about any mental health concerns they have so their PCP can connect them with appropriate care. Our PCPs work collaboratively with behavioral health consultants, who are mental health professionals working on our primary care teams to provide immediate consultation for a mental health need that emerges in the medical setting. Additionally, both CAPS psychiatrists and primary care medical clinicians can now assess a student’s need for medication related to mental health concerns and provide access to prescriptions. Students can receive these services at Cornell Health whether or not they receive CAPS counseling.

My Cornell Health colleagues and I are very optimistic that these changes to our mental health services will enable us to provide better support for students when they need it. And we will continue to make changes to the system as we begin to get real-time data from our students seeking care. We thank the Cornell community for your support and invite you to provide feedback as we embark on these exciting changes.

Kent W. Bullis, M.D. is the executive director of Cornell Health. Comments may be sent to opinion@cornellsun.com.