On Friday, Counseling and Psychological Services announced that it will extend its hours to weekday evenings and Saturdays.
The announcement came from Meeta Kumar, the CAPS director of outreach and prevention, at the CAPS Wellness Reception, which brought together student leaders and administrators to share ideas and collaborate on mental health initiatives.
Kumar said that it would take several months to work through the hiring process for new staff before CAPS can offer the extended hours.
“We’re really excited because this has been much talked about and we just received the go ahead,” she said at the event. “So that’s really great news.”
The announcement came among several other new initiatives and programming that CAPS will be offering this year. Kumar also shared statistics that showed the success of their outreach — for example, 200 new students used CAPS services in the month of September alone, the highest increase recorded.
Kumar said she hoped the event would foster collaboration among student groups and lead to inclusion of students who might not be aware of the wellness initiatives.
“There’s still people who are not in the loop. So we are not just doing it within our own siloed communities but we keep expanding our reach so it touches more and more,” Kumar said.
For the first time, CAPS will be offering an international student peer support group conducted in Mandarin, as well as a support group for students to talk about their experiences of discrimination and marginalization.
The CAPS International Specialist Dr. Yuhong He said she hoped the Mandarin-language group would offer additional support to some of the 2,000 Chinese international students at Penn.
“Because English is not their first language many of them have reported feeling like because of the language barrier they even have difficulties accessing some of the services, including CAPS,” she said.
Dr. He said the group would be a space for students “to speak to someone in their language and to be more able to express themselves and maybe talk about other issues that may be related to language or culture.”
The new programming goes along with existing efforts by CAPS to expand their capacity and outreach. Last spring they hired Dr. Alaina Silverman for the new position of coordinator of prevention programs. They also hired Ben Bolnick, the former student leader of Penn Wellness as the student wellness communications coordinator.
Last year, CAPS piloted a new ‘embedded’ model at Penn Vet School in which a CAPS clinician worked in-house several days a week, providing initial consultations and acting as a conduit to CAPS. The model was successful, and they plan to expand and launch it at Penn Dental this year.
CAPS is also working to provide after-hour care by training professionals by phone during nighttime and weekend hours to assist callers and troubleshoot issues. They are also looking into texting capabilities to expand the number of avenues to support students.
“Our colleagues across other counseling centers really struggle with getting students involved or getting groups going,” Kumar said. “And we just are such a hub here of creativity and energy and commitment.”
Student leaders expressed excitement that CAPS would be extending its hours.
“We brought it up in meetings before and talked about how students’ schedules are very constrained and if you’re working 9 to 5 or if you have class from 9 to 5 you can’t get in here,” said College senior Kathryn Dewitt, president of Active Minds. “So I’m really excited that this is improving accessibility for students.”
Penn Wellness Chair and College senior Peter Moon agreed, and said one of the biggest complaints he has heard from students is trying to fit CAPS appointments into their schedule.
“You can’t really expect a counseling center to offer hours outside of business hours so the fact that they’ve gone above and beyond and made sure to keep pushing this point and...the fact that someone said ‘Yes, this is a thing we’re gonna put money behind’ is awesome,” Moon said.
Bolnick felt the announcement came as a culmination of ongoing efforts and partnerships among students and administrators to improve the mental health climate on campus.
“That’s really the efforts of everybody working together,” Bolnick said. “So that it’s not just these students who are involved in mental health activities but it’s really everybody being on board with this cultural change.”
Editor's Note: This article appeared in print with the headline, "CAPS now open weekday evenings." This headline misleadingly states that the changed schedule will occur immediately, though it will actually take place in a few months. The DP regrets the error.