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UA mental health services see increase in first-time patients as online services become ‘new norm’

Published: Oct. 25, 2021 at 6:58 AM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The pandemic has brought a silver lining to mental health services at the University of Arizona. Experts say online counseling started last year for the first time due to COVID-19, and it turns out students feel more comfortable logging onto their computers for therapy instead of going to in-person counseling on campus.

Aaron Barnes, Associate Director at Counseling and Psych Services, said he never thought mental health services would turn digital but said it has catered to a lot of students who might’ve not been able to get help otherwise.

“I think the face of mental health has pretty much changed forever. I think most therapy will be conducted online from here on out, which is something I never expected to see,” Barnes said. “It’s opened up resources for people who might’ve never had the opportunity before. I think that’s pretty cool, too.”

Last year there were 17,913 visits, 54% of those students had never been to CAPS before. Barnes said all of those services were online for some time because of COVID-related shutdowns.

In comparison, 20,297 students were seen from 2018 to 2019 and 20,164 students were seen from 2019 to 2020. Even though numbers slightly dipped, Barnes said they’re still relatively high because students weren’t physically on campus.

“We all know through this pandemic what it’s like to struggle, and I think a lot of folks have seen their mental health struggle. And if there’s any lesson we can take from that it’s that we need to start asking each other how we’re doing,” Barnes said.

Most of the new students CAPS has seen are freshmen and sophomores. They say having essentially two freshman classes this year because of online learning last year, is something they’ve never experienced before.

“They’re experiencing the break-ups and the homesickness and sort of experimenting with drugs and alcohol, partying a little bit more,” Barnes said. “Because we have that double effect of two new classes on campus, our numbers are definitely going up.”

Barnes said the online sessions have made people realize they’re not alone, and they can get help either in person or in the comfort of their own home.

“Now you can “walk into” CAPS by clicking a button online, and we’ve heard that’s very convenient and it works better for a lot of students’ lives,” Barnes said.

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