CAPS turns down some students in need

By Kelly Corbett
Staff Writer

“Have you heard of the Enterprise CarShare Program?” one of the counseling psychologists at Counseling And Psychological Services (CAPS) asked me in early February. I nodded yes, while seesawing between trying to stop my mascara from smearing and snapping back at her “Are you really telling me to rent a fucking car?”

After my diagnosis with Binge Eating Disorder, I visited CAPS so I could be granted permission to join one of its support groups, “Food, Mood, and You,” and set up weekly sessions to talk to a counselor.  I told her my story — how excessively large meals were a norm for me, how thousands of calories in one sitting were standard, how at times, I felt that I couldn’t stop eating and how I vigorously exercised daily to torch all my regret. She sympathetically bobbed her head, scribbled some notes down and listened to my tales about my frenzied eating patterns. I also said I was on antidepressants, which were prescribed for me by my doctor at home.

The counselor provided me with a flyer of Eating Disorder centers and resources, mostly in Princeton, N.J., and strongly recommended that I look into them. She told me that CAPS could not offer me the help I needed — I required an extensive treatment program, she said, and CAPS only offers short-term treatment — and that I had to seek help elsewhere. She also told me that the support group I wanted to join, “Food, Mood, and You,” could not accept me if I wasn’t involved in a long-term treatment program.

I don’t have a car on campus, which is why I didn’t jump at the idea of receiving treatment in Princeton. The counselor suggested I rent a car, which was ridiculous. I’m a broke college student just trying to get some help, not someone who is vacationing in Disney World and needs a car for a week. On top of paying for outside counseling resources, renting a car sounded costly and time-consuming. I have class everyday, an on-campus job and I don’t have the time to be renting cars and leaving campus just to talk to someone. I wanted to do it at the College. I just wanted to talk to some type of counselor, any type of counselor, anyone with a beating heart, about how I was feeling. I was still too ashamed of myself to open up to my friends, which is why I tried to seek help from CAPS.

When I explained to the counselor my reasoning for not wanting to seek help off campus, she made me feel like I wasn’t making an effort to get better and that I was only taking a step back from the recovery process. Believe me, I wanted to get better more than anything, but putting out the time and money seemed like too much of a stretch for me. I wanted to be able to go to CAPS because it is convenient, free and the counselors are familiar with the College’s campus. If I went somewhere off campus and talked about “Eick,” for example, they wouldn’t be able to understand as well as a CAPS counselor could. Either way, whether or not CAPS could help me solve my eating disorder, they overlooked the fact that I was also dealing with depression, an area they could have certainly helped me with in their office.

So I left room 107 in Eickhoff Hall, feeling even more helpless, and strolled into the main dining hall, a location all too familiar to me and the origin of many of my problems. If someone with Binge Eating Disorder becomes triggered or upset and finds themself in a self-serving unlimited dining hall, things tend to go awry. It was my fault for walking in, though.

The next month, CAPS hosted the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) monologues. To apply to be a speaker at this event, you had to fill out a Qualtrics form prior to meeting with a CAPS peer educator to answer a few specific questions. So I did just that, and met with a woman in the atrium of the Social Sciences Building to discuss my disorder with her. She told me that the point of these monologues is to uplift the audience and create a positive message. It made sense that CAPS would want to have speakers be inspirational, however, I wasn’t going to sugarcoat my eating endeavor to comfort the audience.

I knew after a couple of days of not hearing back that CAPS didn’t want me to speak at the event. Was my story not as real as the other ones? Was my story not good enough? I wanted my explanation, but I never got one. I still planned to attend the event, though.

On the day of the monologues, at around 2:30 p.m., I received an email that a speaker had dropped out and they had room in the schedule for me. The event was in a few hours, I was in class and I didn’t have time to prepare a speech. I was unsure of what to say or do — I just wanted to roll up in a ball on my bed. But I said yes.

I didn’t have much time to mentally prepare myself for the night. Only one friend on campus knew I had an eating disorder, so I texted her to come. I fished in another friend with the hook, “I’m giving a speech in the Library Auditorium, can you please come?” She showed, but probably was not expecting one of her closest friends to divulge in public that she had an eating disorder.

Walking in, I felt like I wasn’t worthy enough to be there. I was just the last-minute replacement. In my opinion, everyone that was brave enough to share their story should have been granted time. But again, I don’t run CAPS.

Because I had such little time to prepare, I got overly-emotional during my monologue and I didn’t mention half of the things I wanted to — I was a mess. While the other students filled up rows with their loving peers and supporters, I filled two seats. I would have wanted my boyfriend and a few more select friends there.

I don’t regret speaking, but I decided at that point that I was done with CAPS. They didn’t want to offer me service, they didn’t want to let me into the food-specific support group that could have helped me all semester and my eating disorder story was only good enough to be told after room opened up in the schedule.

I let my mental health take a backseat for a while. My eating disorder lingered in the background of my life while I got into my first relationship in years, finalized my summer plans and received my certification to teach my own fitness class. Things were looking up, but in between all the good news, I tried to slow the tears, making more and more frequent walks-of-shame: Eick edition, because my so-called lunch turned into a 5-course-dinner again. My eating had gone haywire.

While things in my life were improving, I wasn’t. I was getting worse. I was crying on my way to class over food and having to compose myself in the bathroom before I walked in. I was trying to get homework done, but I was always so full that my stomach felt like it was going to rip open. I’d eat the equivalent of three meals a day (or more) in a 30-minute-period and walk around uncomfortably full and upset the rest of the day. I was constantly tearing off my boyfriend’s ear, stressing over my unhealthy eating patterns. He is a great listener, but he doesn’t have a PhD or any experience in the field. I needed something more.

I returned back to CAPS in April, thinking that maybe since there were only a few weeks left in the semester, they would take me. They wouldn’t. I got a phone call and was pitched the idea of receiving off-campus help, but once again, I said no. The woman I spoke to talked me into setting up a time with the counselors to discuss resources and facilities offered off-campus, but I had to wait six days until the appointment. The woman asked me if I had thoughts of harming myself or suicide. I answered “no,” because I didn’t, but that didn’t mean I was in a stable state or that they could push my file to end. Honestly, I just wanted a regular session with a counselor to learn some coping techniques to help me survive the rest of the semester. I just needed something, someone. But instead, I hung up the phone in tears and started writing this.

I still have a long path to recovery, but clearly I won’t be recovering at the College. I’m not asking CAPS to become more specialized in eating disorders, but to stop being so selective in which students they help. Everyone deserves help. Even if the help they could potentially provide me with wasn’t tailored toward me at all, any help is better than letting me walk around campus miserable. Even if the most they could have done was listen to me talk for 30 minutes every week, that would have been perfect.

With recent deaths by suicide that have occurred and a soaring rate of mental health issues on college campuses across the country, you would think CAPS would be more welcoming.

4 Comments on CAPS turns down some students in need

  1. Thank you for sharing your painful experience. As a parent, this breaks my heart. You are a brave young woman; invest the time in yourself that you deserve and get counseling. If you stumble and fall, that’s ok… Just keep going!

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I had a similar experience with CAPS and left more frustrated and upset than when I went in. I hope more people read this article and realize it is a serious problem and that CAPS needs to change in order to help those that need it.

  3. As a CAPS PE and a huge supporter of mental health awareness on campus, I’m truly sorry you feel this way. I’m sure this was not the intention of CAPS or the peer educators. As I’m sure you are aware because we attend a state institution, many programs are underfunded and lack the resource to expand- CAPS being one of them. For about 6,000 students there are less than 12 counselors attempting to see all in need. Instead of looking at it as them turning you away, you could look at it as them attempting to get you proper help. It’s not an exact science and human error is always involved.
    As I am very close friends with a student who died by suicide at TCNJ, I know that CAPS makes a strong and concerted effort to end the stigma behind seeking help and promoting mental wellness. Please be part of our help, as I can see you know how important good mental health is to oneself.
    Again I apologize for your experience, it isn’t fair to make you feel unimportant, although I do feel it was unintentional.

  4. I am so sorry to hear this, and I am so saddened to find that my story is not unique. The same thing happened to me — I have debilitating anxiety and depression, so bad that sometimes I would stay in bed for several days, and when I went to CAPS they told me to take and uber to treatment.

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