College prioritizes mental health with dedicated CAPS liaisons
A group effort among students, faculty and Purdue University Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) has resulted in the addition of three liaisons dedicated to working with the College of Engineering.
The idea took root within the Purdue Engineering Student Council (PESC), whose mission is to serve industry, faculty and fellow students through coordinating events and advocating for them. The Mental Health Committee was born when several of the members agreed that resources would not only be helpful, but also were needed among engineering students.
“I realized that mental health was a bigger problem on campus than most people could imagine, and though there were many resources for wellness, few people knew they existed,” said Nick Gunady, an aeronautical and astronautical engineering senior who was one of the responsible parties in getting the committee off the ground. “After struggling with a string of losses in my sophomore year, I was lucky enough to get a lot out of my time with CAPS,” Gunady said.
Matthew Boyle, an industrial engineering junior who just finished his term as head of the seven-member committee, said mental health was almost a taboo subject in the community where he was raised.
“It was extremely eye opening to speak with my peers on campus about similar issues we are facing,” he said.
Several of the members, while conducting research to present to faculty leaders in hopes of adding mental health resources, learned that the Purdue College of Veterinary Medicine had a specific counselor assigned to its students.
“The veterinary school had nothing but positive reviews, so I thought engineering could greatly benefit from this easy accessibility to a counselor,” Boyle said.
“We wanted a similar level of understanding between students and trained therapists for the College of Engineering,” said Andrea Copeland, a chemical engineering junior. “Engineering students represent a large percentage of the undergraduate and graduate population. Like each group of students, we have unique needs and stressors. Trained therapists who also understand the situation of engineering students throughout their time at Purdue will enable improved, specialized support for us.”
How to get help
CAPS phone: (765) 494-6995
All callers will receive a 15-minute phone call/screening within 72 hours. Those in crisis are guaranteed an immediate consultation.
Is there a fee at CAPS?
No. Exception: Those who miss an appointment will be charged a $25 fee.
Is there currently a waiting list?
No. Everyone who calls is scheduled for a 15-minute screening by phone.
Is CAPS available for graduate students?
Yes. CAPS serves all students.
How has CAPS changed since last year?
More staff have been added so that everyone receives a timely screening.
Which student issues does CAPS address?
Any topic that is of concern. Staff members also offer presentations on stress management, meditation, how to reach out to professors for help, relationship concerns and multicultural concerns.
Throughout the last two years, committee members have met with engineering administrators to voice students’ concerns. They found Alina Alexeenko, professor of aeronautics and astronautics and chemical engineering and associate dean for undergraduate education, particularly receptive, Copeland said.
Gunady agreed. “It was collaborating with Professor Alexeenko, as well as Twila Ortiz and Lori Pence from the College of Engineering, that had the most traction. I think they deserve a lot of credit in maximizing the momentum of the students interested in mental health and working for actionable change.”
“The students at PESC Mental Health Committee put a lot of thought into how to address well-being and gathered input from many students. Collaboration with CAPS was on top of their list, and we are thankful to CAPS Interim Director Kyle Kittleson for being very welcoming of the idea and creating the engineering liaisons program,“ Alexeenko said.
In January 2021, three CAPS professionals volunteered to be consultants for the College, providing outreach and consultation services to students. Donna L. Lazarick, Andrea Gerke, and Bethany Foerg, all CAPS senior staff therapists, volunteered for the dedicated assignment. When they call CAPS for assistance, engineering students may receive therapy services from any one of the many professionals on staff.
“We are very excited about the new roles,” Lazarick said. “Engineering students are encouraged to solve problems independently and to work hard toward excellence. They may not be as aware of when softer skills and practices such as mindfulness, yoga, psychotherapy and stress management could be of benefit.”
The counselors agreed that mental health is important in achieving success and overall wellness.
“This semester, CAPS is really focused on outreach and connecting more with students. As liaisons, we hope to hear more directly from students, provide them with resources, and do more programming to help teach students useful mental health skills,” Foerg said.
Gaining the three liaisons is one arm of Project Bloom, a College initiative aimed at supporting the whole Boilermaker engineer. It places great importance on students’ emotional health by offering resources such as well-being modules, the Task Human mobile app and an engineering mentor network.
Gunady said many of the issues engineering students face – such as anxiety or workload-related stress – start at low levels but have “the potential for propagating to become a bigger issue.” That’s how Project Bloom’s resources can serve as an introduction to self-help.
“Our theory was, if we are able to teach students how to manage stress and anxiety early and provide resources and mentorship to do so, we may be able to reduce the number of serious cases that need to be referred to CAPS.”
“We hope to make behavioral health services easier to access and more student friendly,” Lazarick said. “The desire to have a holistic mind-body spirit sense of well-being is strong in GenX and GenZ. We learn more with every meeting what the unique challenges can be, and we reach more students and faculty than ever before. We can then orchestrate interventions to meet those needs.”
Both counselors agreed a stigma remains attached to seeking mental health services but is not as frowned upon as it once was.
“This stigma can come from individual perceptions, cultural influence and family opinions on mental health. However, in the seven years I have provided therapy services, I have seen a reduction in stigma. It seems to be getting better over time,” Foerg said.
Isabelle Yates, a biological engineering sophomore, said having dedicated engineering counselors advocating for students is a large step in the right direction.
“Sometimes it’s hard for students to convey to professors how they are struggling but can express their concerns to CAPS easier. By having these liaisons, we can help tailor student well-being so that all needs are being met in the best possible way.”
Copeland applauds the College for making this leap to assist students.
“It shows that Purdue Engineering cares about us and is serious about supporting the whole engineer.”
Gunady is encouraged that the College values the committee’s efforts, opinions and recommendations.
“This is a significant commitment to listen to students and address needs head on. My hope is this culture of openness and communication will help drive further changes in the future and continue to improve the student experience, especially for underrepresented communities.”