This article is one in a three-part series looking into Minerva’s mental health care services: how it differs between classes and how it has evolved over time. One Minerva Quest writer from each class wrote about their year. The next two articles will include those reports.
The Minerva global rotation poses a unique set of challenges to school-provided mental health services. Whereby students cannot meet with a single Minerva counselor in person for more than a semester after their first year, when both semesters are in San Francisco. The Counseling And Psychological Services (CAPS) team, formerly Mental Health Services (MHS) has, over the years, adjusted their operations to accommodate these challenges. Four Minerva Quest reporters from each of the current classes interviewed both the CAPS team and students who have used their services to understand the challenges and changes faced by both groups.
Aims and Programs of CAPS
The CAPS team responded in detail to a number of questions from Quest reporters that informed this article. Please find the full responses here.
The CAPS team is led by Dr. I-Ching Grace Hung and Fabrizia Sacerdoti. The CAPS page on The Hub states its mission is to create an “environment that would be conducive to student wellness” rather than preventing or eliminating “mental illness.” The team both provides counseling and facilitates wellness activities. Under the name of “Oxygen,” these small regular events, previously known as “wellness events,” may take the form of such events as “fruits and study” or “no tech tea time”. The team also stresses their “invisible” work, done through coordinating with other segments within Minerva – such as ILOs and the inclusion of the “eye rest break” during class.
Each non-US city has one to two part-time mental health counselors. In response to Quest questions regarding virtual counseling and continuous mental health counselors, Hung wrote: “Providing telehealth as a consistent option or having a counselor who travels with students to all cities is currently impossible (in fact, in most cases, illegal!) due to the complicated legalities of licensure laws for different mental health providers.”
This means students must recount their mental health background to a new counselor each time they utilize CAPS. The CAPS team is trying to solve this issue by using “therapy notes,” an electronic healthcare system where counselors can transfer notes between themselves.
Student Use of Services
Student use of psychological services far exceeds that of other US-based higher education institutions, a more surprising statistic when placed next to the fact that international students at other US schools use mental health services at lower rates than their US counterparts. Statistics on usage are preliminary – especially in older students where there are fewer statistics available — but the following numbers are what surveys and usage stats done by Minerva have found so far.
Around 50 percent of first-year students use counseling services at least once. For uppeclassmen, that number ranges between 40 and 60 percent. CAPS reports that “For US colleges that are most comparable to Minerva in size (pg. 26), the average number of students served by counseling services is 21.6 percent.” On average, Minerva students who use counseling services in a semester have three sessions.
Despite this higher demand, CAPS states they have not yet needed a waitlist and offer appointments within 3 to 5 business days, saying this is different from other schools, where waitlists can range from one to 35 weeks. That said, the study they cite reports the mean wait time for schools of comparable size to be 4.5 days – indicating a waitlist may have little practical impact on wait times. In certain cases, CAPS has directed students towards external services, stating “this is best practice in the world of mental health.”
When it comes to limitations on sessions, Hung responded, “CAPS does not set a session limit to our services, and we don’t intend to, despite seeing an annual utilization rate that far exceeds the averages for a school our size,” Hung told The Quest. In practice, utilization rates and the limited availability of counselors may present practical limitations. In those cases, or in cases where students do not find a counselor that matches their needs – an issue acknowledged by the CAPS team and cited by a number of students with whom our reporters spoke – students may be directed towards external services, typically through GeoBlue, Minerva’s student insurance provider.
Mental Health at Minerva
We do not have access to up-to-date survey data on mental health at Minerva. The following results are from a Wellness Survey sent to Minerva students at the end of the 2017/2018 schools year, which could have changed in the nearly two years since.
The report found Minerva students have higher rates of depression, loneliness, and stress from career – though all other indicators of mental health are more or less the same as in other universities. Furthermore, with an average survey response rate of 80 percent, the class of 2020 responded “yes” to the question, “Does Minerva value the role of wellness in your academic success?” at a rate of 28.2 percent. That same number the previous year had been 54.9 percent, and for M’19 that year was 41.1 percent.
Minerva attributes this dramatic drop in positive responses to the “sophomore slump” – a phenomena where second year students in most universities experience a drop in wellbeing and institutional trust which other universities are attempting to solve. Though Minerva does not speculate further, this may be reasonably attributed to the drop in presence of on-the-ground support after students leave San Francisco.
The CAPS team, along with Minerva staff in general, have stated they are attempting to integrate departments more and to have a stronger focus on student well being. The CAPS team sometimes acts as internal consultants who work with other staff members. They helped implement the Oxygen program and the ILOs – a program further integrated with classes below 2020. The Wellness Survey results stipulate these changes respond directly to student feedback and frustration at the apparent silos of different Minerva departments.
Correction: The last paragraph of this article was updated to more accurately reflect the nature of the CAPS team’s work. A sentence that described them as “an internal ‘consulting firm'” was revised to say that they “sometimes act as internal consultants”. A reference to the CAPS team’s involvement in implementing eye rest breaks was deleted because Hung told the Quest that she “wouldn’t necessarily credit CAPS as a primary reason for implementing the eye rest breaks.”