Trustees discuss student mental health and Penn State support services

September 12, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – With mental health as an ever-growing topic of conversation in society, especially in higher education, Penn State has made tremendous strides in educating its campus community, according to Benjamin Locke, senior director of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS).

Locke and several of his colleagues discussed mental health services and support during a generative discussion at the Board of Trustees Committee on Academic Affairs and Student Life meeting on Sept. 12. They described for Trustees CAPS’ increased proficiency in assisting students in times of mental duress and struggle.

As a mental health professional, Locke discussed why it is the responsibility of the University to assist in providing options and opportunities to support students when it comes to their mental health and wellness overall. Locke also addressed the increasing importance of raising awareness about the complexity of students with mental health concerns.

“CAPS serves about 5,000 students each year,” he said. “Our job is to meet our promise to serve those with mental health needs and to administer prevention programming focusing on wellness and well-being, which we aim to deliver to all students from the time they join the University to the time they leave.”

Locke and his colleagues highlighted for trustees the Penn State Crisis Line (1-877-229-6400) and the Crisis Text Line (text “LIONS” to 741741), which are open to students in crisis as well as those dealing with non-crisis situations — including faculty, staff and students at all campuses who have concerns about someone else at Penn State. 

Underlining the importance of student well-being to the board and the University, several trustees asked Locke and his colleagues what the board can do to be more supportive of CAPS. 

“Mental health is a key driver of student success,” said Trustee David C. Han, chair of the committee. “If that’s our charge, we absolutely have to be talking about this.”

Locke touched upon recent developments in the area of psychology and mental health at Penn State, including several new and reinvigorated programs offered by CAPS.

One such program, CAPS Chat, is prepped to bring the convenience of psychological services directly to students. CAPS Chat provides informal, drop-in consultation for students with counselors from CAPS. Sessions are free and no appointment is necessary. Students are seen on a first-come, first-served basis and meetings are no longer than 30 minutes. Located strategically around University Park, the various CAPS Chat locations are easily accessible to students where counselors help them dive into topics such as stress, anxiety, family stressors and academic pressures. Although not formal therapy, CAPS Chat still brings the personal connection that many students need.

Another relatively new initiative is the Red Folder. Developed as a useful tool for University Park faculty and staff to help direct distressed students to appropriate resources, the Red Folder initiative evolved into a service tailored to all Penn State campuses to directly assist each respective campus’s counseling services in their goals of helping students. 

Other programs that CAPS is continuing in addition to traditional counseling appointments include:

  • Life Hacks – informal groups covering a multitude of topics
  • WellTrack – a free online screening tool available to all Penn State students
  • Group Counseling – servicing a multitude of topics and populations

CAPS provides a wide array of services that tailor to all students with sets of diverse needs. To learn more about what CAPS has to offer, visit https://studentaffairs.psu.edu/counseling.

Last Updated September 12, 2019