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‘Where do I turn?’ A guide for navigating the College’s Mental Health Services

By Sean Leonard
Staff Writer

The last year has been devastating for many students, faculty and members of our college community as mental health is often sacrificed in crises like Covid-19.

Although students have adjusted to remote learning, mental health is still a concern for many. It is important that students know all of the resources provided by Mental Health Services (MHS) ranging from professional counseling to educational workshops, which can help students grow individually and support their peers. 

Where do I start?

The first step to receiving mental health support at the College is to fill out a Request for Services to set up an initial consultation. This should take about 5 to 10 minutes to complete by using the following instructions:

  • Once logged in, click on ‘Forms and Resources‘ and use the CAPS Request for Services (RFS) form for general requests OR the Request for Group Services (RFGS) form to request group membership.
  • Once MHS contacts you for an appointment, Download and sign the Professional Disclosure of Services and the Remote Therapy Consent form.
  • Upload the forms into OWL under “Mental Health Services Professional Disclosure Form” and “Individual Counseling Remote Consent”
  • Electronically complete the Privacy Notice and the Outcome Rating Scale on the day of your appointment.
  • According to the MHS website, students can expect a brief conversation during this consultation to develop a plan on what services best fit the student’s needs.

Students can also fill out an Online Mental Health Screening, a service provided by College Response and a part of mental health screening.org. It’s important to know that the screening should not be a replacement for a professional evaluation.

What’s the deal with CAPS? Is it the same as MHS?

For students who are familiar with Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), MHS is simply the new name. There have been some mixed feelings about CAPS in the past relating to long wait times, a lengthy form for requesting services and a lack of diversity within the staff. 

Dr. Mark Forest said the MHS staff has increased by 40%  since 2014 and now is one of the most diverse departments within student affairs. Forest is the Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs for Health and Wellness and the director of MHS.

Forest also said an urgent walk-in service has been implemented to decrease waiting times. There are no walk-ins allowed for this semester, students should call the office at 609-771-2247 for an initial screening.

What kind of clinical services does MHS provide? What if I need longer-term care?

MHS Clinical Services includes group counseling, workshops, individual counseling and referral services. All services are confidential and remote for the Spring 2021 semester. There is also a Master List that refers to all Mental Health and Wellness resources. 

Forest said the goal of MHS is to provide care to as many students as possible. The length of treatment needs to be limited to meet that demand and students usually visit MHS for about a semester. Forest said most students do not need further treatment, but MHS works closely with students to refer them to long-term private care if needed.

If a student needs long-term care, the Health & Wellness Unit within the Division of Student Affairs also has a Referral Database for mental health providers in the area. 

(Darby VanDeVeen / Photo Editor).

If students wish to stay on campus, the Community Counseling Collaborative (CCC) is available as well. CCC is a relatively new program that introduced licensed counselors from the surrounding community into MHS in order to provide long-term counseling services at reduced prices. Interested students can call the clinicians directly through the CCC website.

Will I be bound to weekly appointments if I request services?

Forest said students are not bound to weekly appointments after requesting services. However, he said it is common for students to receive treatment on a weekly basis. As treatment progresses, students can begin to see their counselor less frequently until treatment is no longer necessary. 

For students who want a less formal experience, the Let’s Talk program provides brief consultations with a mental health professional. Forest said Let’s Talk can be used for one-time appointments, or students can use it whenever they need it. There is limited paperwork and no full intake assessment for participating in Let’s Talk. This service can provide support perspective, potential referrals and further options for care.

Students interested in Let’s Talk should fill out a Consent Form and reach out to MHS staff at mhs@tcnj.edu. It’s important to note that Let’s Talk is not a substitute for ongoing therapy.

The virtual Let’s Talk schedule takes place on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 2:30-3:30 p.m.

Should I use Group Counseling or Workshops instead of private services?

Forest said that group counseling is ideal for students dealing with relationship issues and that groups are also beneficial because of peer feedback. With groups, students can expect to learn new skills, grow as individuals and relate to others with similar experiences.

MHS offers three different types of groups within the program, according to the Group & Workshop FAQs:

  1. Support groups involve five to seven students with a common concern and they meet on a regular basis. A Group Request for Services Form (GRFS) must be filled out through OWL, and students must also email Ashley Denti from CAPS at dentia@tcnj.edu or call 908-771-2247.
  2. Drop-in groups provide a space for students to discuss and receive support about a particular topic. Students do not need to sign up in advance.
  3. Workshops focus on learning new skills and do not last the entire semester.

According to the Group & Workshop Program Schedule, the following spring 2021 groups are accepting new clients remotely:

  • Anxiety about COVID-19 Workshops: Tuesdays 2-3 p.m.
  • Anxiety Management Workshop: Mondays 3:30-4:30 p.m.
  • Good Grief: DROP-IN Group Tuesdays 3:30-4:30 p.m.
  • iThrive: Tuesdays 3:00-4:15 p.m.
  • Living Well: Time and day TBD
  • Not the Perfect Family: Wednesdays 3-4:15 p.m.
  • Parent/Step-Parent Loss Support Group: Fridays: 1:30-2:30 p.m.
  • Perfectly Imperfect: Thursdays: 2:00-3:15 p.m.
  • Racial Trauma Support Group: Thursdays: 3:30-4:30 p.m.
  • Romantic Relationships: Tuesdays: 1:15-2:30 p.m.

If any of these subjects or times interest you, the program schedule has more information. 

What if I’m not comfortable with talking to a professional from the College?

For students not interested in clinical services, peer educators are great resources for mental health information, support and referrals. There are three Peer Education programs, and they have a strong Instagram presence:

  • MHS Peer Educators (@mhspeereds)
  • SAVE Peer Educators, which is a part of the Anti-Violence Initiatives (AVI)
  • Health and Wellness Peer Educators (@tcnj_hwpe)

Forest said there are over 45 peer educators at the College participating in these programs, and they also offer programming for student organizations on campus.

Can MHS help with alcohol or substance-related issues?

Forest said that although the licensed counselors at MHS are trained to offer help with alcohol and substance issues, the College has two departments designed specifically for substance and alcohol abuse: the Collegiate Recovery Program (CRP) and the Alcohol and Drug Education Program (ADEP).

CRP is designed to provide counseling and support services for students in recovery from substance use. CRP also provides Lions House, an on-campus housing option dedicated for students in recovery that organizes nighttime activities for students who do not want to partake in drugs or alcohol.

ADEP educates students on living healthy lifestyles and promotes a campus social atmosphere that is not focused solely on alcohol. ADEP also provides training for fraternities, sports teams and other student organizations on healthy choices and personal responsibility.

Do I really need to reach out to MHS?

Although stress and anxiety are normal responses to life and a busy semester, students should consider seeking support if their issues interfere with basic functions like academic performance, relationships and overall well-being.

Forest also said students do not need to have severe symptoms to contact MHS and they should feel free to request services to receive support or gain a different perspective on their unique situation.

“We encourage students not to wait until things start falling apart in their lives,” Forest said. “I’m sure you’ve heard the expression ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’ Well, that applies to mental health care as well.”

Forest said the stigma surrounding mental health has decreased in recent years, but many people are still reluctant to access treatment out of fear of appearing weak. Forest said MHS believes that asking for help is a sign of strength.

“Our belief is that mental health should be viewed in a similar way as physical health.  When someone gets sick they see a physician,” Forest said. “When we get a cavity, we go see a dentist.  Likewise, when someone’s mental health is suffering, they should seek out professional mental health care.”

Regardless of symptoms, Forest said all students should explore the Health and Wellness website to access its resources, newsletters and programs to improve overall well-being.

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