Decrease in mental health stigma leads to increase in UCF CAPS clients

UCF’s Clinical and Psychological Services (CAPS) saw a rise in clients during the 2016-17 school year, according to the organization’s recent annual report.

During the 2016-17 school year, CAPS served 5,245 students and provided more than 26,000 appointments, according to the report, an increase of 18 percent from the previous year.

Karen Hofmann, the director of CAPS for the past five years, said she thinks the current generation is more open to counseling, which could explain the increase in clients.

CAPS usually provide services to about 800 clients per week, which includes clients returning for individual or group therapy or an initial appointment, Hofmann said.

Although students seek counseling for a variety of reasons ranging from homesickness to suicidal thoughts, more than half of CAPS clients go to therapy for anxiety and depression, Hofmann said.

About 55 percent of clients reported elevated levels of generalized and social anxiety and 54 percent of clients reported increased levels of depression, which is a 1.3 percent and 1.1 percent increase from the previous year, respectively, according to the services’ reports.

Hofmann said because the increase is a national trend, the continual growth of students seeking help for anxiety and depression will most likely continue.

The Center for Collegiate Mental Health (CCMH) works with colleges across the nation to provide annual reports providing information about college students’ mental health progressions.

Anxiety and depression have continued to rise across college campuses during the past six years and were listed as the most common concerns for college students, according to the CCMH 2016 report.   

Amie Newins, an assistant professor for the department of psychology and director of the Stress, Health and Anxiety Research Lab (SHARE) at UCF, agreed with Hofmann and said anxiety and depression are common issues on college campuses.

“I think it’s probably always been there to some extent,” Newins said. “I think there are a lot of possible explanations for what may be happening and we probably need more research on why.”

Hofmann said many CAPS clients expressed a constant need to be doing something productive for fear of feeling like they were falling behind.

“I don’t think that was happening when I was in college, so I think the technological advances and what the expectations are for college students is much more about perfectionism,” Hofmann said.

Although depression and anxiety were always common mental health issues, Hofmann said the prevalence of each issue has altered.

“For the previous generation [of college students], it was depression first then anxiety, and then there was kind of a switch,” she said. “They’re still high, but now anxiety is more common than depression.”

The shift might be caused by new pressures students have to deal with, Hofmann said.

“I think culturally, there is a lot more pressure on kids to perform, to be good at what they’re doing, to keep up with the crowd, to keep up with friends and social media — those probably have a lot to do with mental health,” Hofmann said. 

Newins agreed with Hofmann that the current generation seems to be more open to conversations about mental health.  

“It’s a possible reason, and a positive reason, if more people are more willing to seek services because they’re less concerned with being viewed negatively,” Newins said.

Destigmatizing mental health concerns is one of the outcomes Newins said she hopes to see in the future.

CAPS partners with Active Minds, a student-run mental health awareness, education and advocacy group that was founded nationally in 2003 and formed a UCF chapter in 2008, according to its website

Active Minds works to increase college student’s awareness of mental health issues, to create a dialogue about mental health at UCF. 

“I feel that Active Minds’ presence on college campuses across the nation, including UCF, can play a crucial role in encouraging the mental well-being of the student body,” President of the UCF chapter Caroline Pittman said.

Pittman, 20, has been involved with Active Minds since her freshman year of college and said she was ecstatic to join an organization devoted to normalizing mental health conversations. 

Members of the organization call themselves #StigmaFighters on social media to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues, Active Minds’ Social Media Chair Katherine Morales, 20, said. 

“Having friends and family members who have dealt with mental health illnesses as well as my own struggles, their [Active Minds] message resonates with me, and I’ve been a #StigmaFighter ever since,” Pittman said.