Counseling and Psychological Services Welcomes Full-Time Psychiatrist

Posted: May 8, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Devon Madison

Carol Perez
Carol Perez
Photo by Willow Bodman

Students coming to Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) may see a new face in the department. Carol Perez, Mason’s first full-time, on-staff psychiatrist, began working there in January and brings along with her a wealth of experience.

“We are exceedingly grateful to Vice President for University Life Sandy Hubler for her support in securing this position,” says Jeff Pollard, director of CAPS.

Prior to coming to Mason, Perez had her own private practice for 14 years. She had always been interested in working with a student population, but was unable to find the opportunity to join a university setting until now.

Perez says that so far, her experience at Mason has been very positive. “I’ve been very impressed with the comprehensive care Mason offers to people who need it,” she says. “And it’s really inspiring to know that students can be successful despite the conditions they are dealing with.”

“Dr. Perez is a student advocate from the moment she meets them. She wants nothing but the very best for our students,” says Pollard. “She has marvelous training. In addition, she’s tremendously accessible, and she’s really down to earth.”

While Perez enjoys working with college-age students, she admits that there are certain challenges with this population. For those students who were already struggling with issues such as depression or an eating disorder prior to coming to Mason, these issues can become compounded when students are faced with the stress of the college experience.

Another difficult aspect of working with this age group is trying to discern mental illness from burnout due to poor sleeping habits and substance abuse, such as heavy drinking — lifestyle choices not uncommon in the college population.

One alarming trend that she’s noticing is how many demands students have to contend with on top of their already time-consuming course load. She sees students who, in addition to studying, work full time or have intense family obligations. Such demands can have consequences for mental health. “I really admire these students for managing so much, but I do worry about them,” she says.

Since Perez has come onboard at CAPS, the university has been able to address the severity of the mental health issues cropping up on campus. In recent months, CAPS has also been successful in addressing the number of students coming into the facility.

Last fall, two part-time doctoral students began interning as clinicians in CAPS. This provides the interns with valuable experience, and it also provides CAPS with strong practitioners who can provide excellent care to the student population. Two additional doctoral interns will begin clinical work at CAPS this fall, which will further bolster the clinician workforce and increase the number of students who can be seen.

Encouraging students who need assistance the most can be a challenge, says Perez. To foster an understanding that there is nothing shameful about experiencing psychological problems, Perez encourages people to perceive it as a medical condition, which in many cases it is.

“Many students start to see their situation in a different light when they see that medication and counseling really can help. Having a good experience here at CAPS can truly have a ripple effect on other people; if a student is experiencing successful treatment, he or she oftentimes will encourage a friend who might need some help to come over and see us.

“The most important thing for students to know is that we are here to help. We are not here to judge or to gossip, but to help them achieve their goals.”

To comply with Virginia House Bill 1005, which becomes law on July 1, Mason’s Board of Visitors approved a new notification policy at its May 7 meeting. The policy establishes procedures for notifying a parent of a dependent student when CAPS determines that there exists a substantial likelihood that, as a result of mental illness, the student will in the near future cause harm to himself or herself or others; or will suffer serious harm because of a lack of capacity to protect or care for himself or herself. The policy provides an exception to parental notification when the treating clinician determines that notification is reasonably likely to cause substantial harm to the student or another person.

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