Alone: students recount The Line, CAPS experiences

Ella Helmuth, Staff Reporter

The Line: Tulane’s 24/7 crisis hotline asserts itself to be “here when you need it.” Two roommates recently found that is not always the case when a phone operator from The Line accused them of making a prank call while experiencing a mental health emergency.

According to USA Today, in 2015 49.5 percent of US college students report feeling “hopeless” at some point in the past year, which is what professionals believe makes campus mental health services a necessity.

Tulane provides mental health services in the form of Counseling and Psychological Services, which provides brief individual therapy in the form of twelve free counseling sessions, group therapy sessions and The Line, a 24/7 confidential support line, all meant to provide support to the student body.

Donna Bender, Director of CAPS, said she didn’t feel that CAPS had distinct short-comings in need of addressing, but that they will need to work to keep up with the growing demand among students.

“In terms of shortcomings, I don’t really view things through that lens because we have a strong clinic, but it is more a question of how to keep up with growing demand for our services, given that we do not have unlimited space and staff resources.”

Unfortunately, not all Tulane students have had positive experiences with the mental health services offered.

Two freshman roommates each had extremely negative, separate experiences with The Line in the first three weeks of school. These students, who requested anonymity, will be referred to as “Greg” and “James.”

Greg is a freshman studying biology in the School of Science and Engineering. James is a freshman studying neuroscience in the School of Science and Engineering.

A phone operator from The Line accused Greg of making a prank call when James, his roommate, called The Line because he had felt triggered at a party.

“I put [the phone] on speaker because I felt we needed to listen in on what they were saying and it ended up being that she thought it was a prank phone call because someone started coughing in the background,” James said. “She was just zero help after that.”

After James explained the gravity of the situation, he said The Line phone operator expressed eagerness to end the call. Greg said once he described the state of his mental health, she seemed even more unwilling to continue the conversation.

“As she learned that I was depressed in my past, but not right now, she wanted no part in what was happening,” Greg said. “She said, ‘Well you’re not suicidal now, you have a good support network, talk later.’ And ‘Call back if you need me.’ That was it.”

James decided to try again when he later called The Line after breaking up with his significant other and needing support.

He found that once the staff member knew he was not immediately suicidal, she was less than interested in supporting him emotionally.

“She said ‘okay so it sounds like you’re in a good place right now,’ and I’m like ‘Well, I didn’t call because I’m suicidal, I called because I wanted to talk to someone, I thought that’s what The Line is.’ and she said ‘Yeah, the line is more than just a suicide hotline.’ and then, ‘So if you don’t need anything else, I’m gonna go.'”

Donna Bender says that an outside entity staffs the Line.

“The Line is staffed by the Crisis Intervention Center, a specialized professional resource that has done hotline work for decades. Their trained staff provides support that students can access immediately anytime day or night.”

The Line, however, is not the only one of Tulane’s mental health services that have received criticism.

CAPS’ website states it is “committed to providing a safe, inclusive and affirming community of care for all students.”

Sophomore Danielle Fernandes tried to take advantage of the services provided by CAPS last year. She found that it was difficult to schedule an appointment promptly, an issue that many students say they’ve faced. 

“Finding a time that fit for both me and that therapist was difficult, to say the least, because she had several students that she was helping.”

When she was able to schedule an appointment, she found that her therapist was accusatory, and less than understanding when she was unable to come to an appointment.

“It’s hard to get help for yourself. For someone to be criticizing you when you’re trying to get yourself help, that’s really difficult. It’s already hard for me to walk into the office, for someone to then make it even harder by making me feel guilty about being super stressed out and forgetting an appointment; that’s difficult for me to come back.”

Other students said they had positive experiences with Tulane’s mental health services.

Carly Goldberg, a contributor to The Hullabaloo mental health column Brainwaves, said she benefitted from weekly visits to CAPS her freshman year, and would recommend others do the same.

“I believe anyone and everyone could benefit from a weekly check-in, or an hour to indulge in total self exploration and introspection,” Goldberg said. “In Tulane context, therapy is all the more so crucial to the success and welfare of students, especially those who transition into such an unfamiliar/overwhelming setting.”

Junior Foster Noone found a saving grace in CAPS their freshman year after experiencing ongoing anxiety, depression and a suicidal period.

“It helped me reframe the way I addressed my own mental health and also helped me get on medication that has really changed my life,” Noone said. “I see a therapist outside of CAPS now but still have a great relationship with my CAPS psychiatrist.”

CAPS has also served as a support system in the form of group therapy for Noone after recently losing their best friend.

“As someone who recently lost their best friend to suicide, the grief and loss CAPS group has been so crucial to my healing and processing that loss.”

In regards to the negative experiences students have had with the mental health services, Bender emphasized a desire to have all voices heard but understands it is not always possible.

“It is always unfortunate when a student feels like they have not had a good experience and we are devoted to meeting everyone’s needs the best we can,” Bender said. “On occasion, there are misunderstandings in communications and things may not go as a student had hoped.”

Noone said that no matter how positive their experiences were, they recognize that things should change if other students have traumatic experiences within Tulane’s mental health system.

“I would never invalidate negative experiences that people have had with CAPS,” Noone said. “That trauma and mishandling of students is real and needs to be addressed.”

Editors Note: No representative from The Line was available for comment. Donna Bender was referred to as a professional source on both The Line and CAPS. 

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