The Undergraduate Assembly administered a survey to undergraduate students to gauge interest for specific mental health initiatives, including the location of Counseling and Psychological Services, the presence of student-led mental health groups, and the possibility of walk-in CAPS sessions in buildings on campus.
The survey is not connected to the University's Task Force on Student Psychological Health and Welfare, which Penn reconvened in 2016 following 14 student deaths by suicide in three years. The UA survey is led by students and geared toward student awareness of resources, rather than administrative review of campus culture.
The deadline for submission to the Mental Health Resources Awareness and Utilization Survey, which the UA emailed to Penn undergraduates Feb. 27, was scheduled to be March 17, but was extended a week to March 23 in order to maximize response rate.
As of March 19, just over 300 students had responded to the survey. Freshmen had the highest response rate, comprising 32 percent of the total responses. Since the survey closed, no updated numbers have been released.
“We know students on a more personal level because we are college kids. When your peers are caring about [mental health], it can make you more comfortable talking about it,” College freshman and UA New Student Representative Kevin Zhou said. “It’s always been the authority looking into the problem, but now it’s your peers and friends.”
Earlier this semester, the administration launched several initiatives to address problems brought up in the survey, including a Wellness website launched on Jan. 22 that acts as a guide to Penn’s wellness resources, and a review of CAPS' operations conducted this past January.
One of the main goals of the survey is to assess student opinion on the potential of CAPS implementing an “embed model,” which would allow students to see CAPS clinicians designated for specific schools for walk-in appointments at buildings on campus rather than at the CAPS office on Market Street.
CAPS has already implemented this model at four graduate schools, and has seen graduate student usage rates increase from 12 to over 17 percent. The survey was originally intended to only address the "embed model," but the UA eventually decided to add more questions about how students utilize other resources.
“There’s mental health at CAPS, and then there’s Penn. Physically, there’s that distance,” Zhou said. "The main purpose of the survey is for Jessica and I to know whether or not we should keep pursuing the projects we had in mind, like the embedded model."
Before releasing the survey, the UA also received assistance from the Office of Student Affairs and the CAPS assessment specialists, a team of statisticians that helped the students word questions correctly.
Director of Outreach and Prevention Services Meeta Kumar said that this collaboration was “possibly the first time they have worked with students” for a student-led survey.
Initial survey responses indicated that the majority of students believe that CAPS is too far away and are interested in implementing an "embed model" for CAPS, Nursing sophomore and UA Associate Member Jess Andrews said.
“The tide has shifted to more people wanting it to be more convenient and accessible,” Andrews said. “The stigma is less of a problem.“
Allowing more options for short-term treatment could decrease wait times and help “alleviate the pressure” on CAPS and its increasing levels of student demand, Andrews said.
“This is a student-led survey from beginning to finish. Administration was informed about the survey and they offered suggestions and a lot support, but please note that they did not force anything onto us that we did not want to do," Zhou wrote in an email to the DP.
Andrews added that the survey indicated that undergraduates are not all aware or utilize student-led wellness groups, such as Reach-a-Peer Helpline and Penn Benjamins.
After it closes the survey, the UA hopes to give the data to CAPS and meet with other student groups to discuss how they could increase accessibility.
"We know the resources are there, they just need to better suit the student body,” Andrews said.