Health Services will now allow its primary care physicians to prescribe medications to students with mental illnesses, a move that aims to help those with mild to moderate anxiety or depression, said Adam Pallant, clinical director of Health Services.
As a result of this change, students across the University will experience “less wait (time) for medication management,” wrote Will Meek, director of Counseling and Psychological Services, in an email to The Herald.
Due to the evolving nature of general health care needs, this change was necessary, Pallant said, citing “the volume or presentation of anxiety and depression (that) has increased across the entire country.” There is a “significant need” for primary care physicians to be trained to manage the demand for anxiety and depression treatments, he added.
For this transition to benefit the community, training Health Services staff to treat students with mental illnesses properly is critical, Pallant wrote in an email to The Herald. “The clinicians at Health Services have committed to honing their skills … and how best to work very closely with CAPS providers to ensure that our approach and back-up supports are in place.”
Currently, Health Services clinicians are prepared for this change, given that they are “well-versed and skilled in prescribing medication and following patients with mild to moderate depression and anxiety,” Pallant said.
But Pallant said he didn’t want students to have the impression “that every time you want something, you can blow by Health Services and they can give you a psychiatric med.” Students will have to undergo an evaluation by Health Services’ primary care physicians that will recommend the courses of treatment, from therapy to medication, that would be most appropriate, he said. Students who require psychiatric medication for conditions that are not mild to moderate anxiety or depression will be referred to a psychiatrist at CAPS, Pallant said.
Allowing primary care physicians to prescribe anti-depressants and anxiety medication will foster greater collaboration between CAPS and Health Services by facilitating cross-consultation for students who need both therapy and medication, Pallant added.
CAPS and Health Services are always “looking for that next opportunity to weave our work together,” Meek said. “Part of the vision … is to constantly be looking for the next place to build bridges together in the spirit of collaboration.”
This cross-consultation will allow students to experience “coordinated care” between CAPS and Health Services, said Vanessa Britto, executive director of Health and Wellness. “We are all a team … so there are mechanisms and processes that we are working on together internally, behind the scenes, (to) facilitate communication,” she added.
Previously, only psychiatrists at CAPS could prescribe medications to students to treat mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression, Meek said. Their prescriptions were issued after students attended counseling sessions with one of CAPS’ psychotherapists, he added.
With the constantly evolving needs of students, improving mental health care is an ongoing process, Meek said. “Practices should constantly be revised to make sure we’re serving students right now.”
As collaboration between CAPS and Health Services continues to grow, Britto said their progress would be incremental, but they still have “a lot of really good work ahead.”