Docs Show Long Waits for Penn Mental Health Services

Psychiatrist said wait times were pushing students "to the point of danger."

On a Penn campus still reeling from several suicides earlier this semester, the student-run Daily Pennsylvanian has produced a nice piece of investigative journalism today. It has obtained documents from a former psychologist, Nick Garg, at the university’s Counseling and Psychological Services department showing that students endured lengthy wait times to obtain mental health services at the university.

While the average wait was 13 days, the paper reports, sometimes it could be much longer:

One case Garg pointed to involved an undergraduate who called CAPS in late fall 2011 with mild depressive symptoms, according to Garg’s notes. She was told she had to wait six weeks or take a referral to a therapist in Philadelphia, so she took a referral. However, she didn’t like the outside psychologist, so she called CAPS again. She was told to wait another several weeks. While she waited, she began cutting herself with a kitchen knife. She called one of her parents, asking her parent to make sure she didn’t cut herself deeper or jump out of a window. The student’s parent furiously called CAPS, demanding an appointment. The student was seen immediately.

On March 27, 2012, Garg sent an email to CAPS Director Bill Alexander asking to discuss the wait list.

“Four, five, and even six weeks to begin treatment at CAPS is much too long for the students,” Garg wrote. “The length of the wait-time has led to more clinical regression (sometimes to the point of danger), than I can remember since I started working at CAPS in 2003. I think we owe it to our students, both legally and ethically, to find a sustainable, systemic solution.”

Following the suicides, staffing at CAPS was beefed up and wait times fell, at least initially. Garg was fired in September 2012, allegedly for slapping another CAPS staffer, which he denies.