Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : October 1st 2017 Contents 8 UWI TODAY -- SUNDAY 1 OCTOBER, 2017
The University's Counselling and Psychological
Services (CAPS) is tucked away in a corner of the
Health Services Unit (HSU) building. It's a small
space -- just a couple offices and a waiting area
with a brochure stand chock-full of information on
various issues that a ect university students. A quick
ri e through and you'll nd the usual suspects of
student distress: navigating relationships, dealing
with stress, overcoming anxiety. You'll also recognise
other common plagues like eating disorders and self-
harm, and mental illnesses like bi-polar disorder and
If you're visiting and you have to wait, worry not --
there's a lot to keep you occupied and enlightened, which
is, in fact, one of the CAPS biggest responsibilities,
says Dr. Sarah Chin Yuen Kee, Counsellor and
Co-ordinator. For a large campus like e UWI St.
Augustine, with its student population of almost
19,000, "a counselling service ... should be playing a
huge role in promoting proactive self-care and mental
health wellness," she says.
A clinical psychologist, Dr. Chin Yuen Kee has
more than 20 years' experience working in mental
health; she's spent the last 11 at the CAPS. Until two
years ago, the CAPS was a part of UWI's HSU, but
following a restructuring of the campus' student
services, it now falls under the Division of Student
Services and Development (DSSD). The CAPS'
Mission is "promoting mental health and wellness
across the campus community."
Counselling services are vital to a university for
a number of reasons. e typical university student
is between 18 and 25 years old, the "key age range
where a lot of mental illnesses appear for the rst time,
like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia," says Dr. Chin
Yuen Kee. " at age range is essentially the bulk of
our student population," so, though they may be the
minority, there are "students who will develop mental
illnesses during their time at university."
Add to that the fact that society is "more stressful,"
especially as students are taking greater responsibility
for their own lives -- nancial problems may arise and,
of course, they're dealing with the general stress of
university life -- "mental health can take a real bashing."
In addition to its face-to-face counselling services
for students, the CAPS educates sta and students on
mental health through outreach programmes, which
communicate its services and encourage students to
take advantage. However, the CAPS faces a challenge.
"People o en think ... something [must be] seriously
wrong with you to have to go to counselling," shares
Dr. Chin Yuen Kee. " ere's that stigma that if you do
come you're really messed up." So, she takes the CAPS
to the students.
Since all undergraduate students must complete
one or two foundation courses, one initiative has
been to include a 15-minute presentation, covering
a di erent mental health topic each semester. She
points out that the Science, Medicine and Technology
and, just t
in Society foundation course always had a health
component, but it didn't address mental health. "So,
I negotiated with the course facilitator to include a
"Obviously I'm advertising the counselling
service," she says, "and I always emphasise that visiting
a counsellor ... is just an opportunity to talk out
whatever is going on in your life and help you gure
out the next best step."
She is aware, however, that despite efforts to
destigmatise counselling, "a lot of students will never
come and see a counsellor." ey may talk to someone
they identify with or trust, however, like a fellow
student, Resident Hall Assistant (RA) or lecturer. So,
"we've instigated all kinds of training across campus,"
like the Mind the Gap co-curricular course, which is a
prerequisite training programme for students joining
the Guild of Students' Peer Counselling Association
(PCA). "We cover lots of common mental health
issues," and focus on teaching active listening skills and
assessing risk, Dr. Chin Yuen Kee explains.
The Faculty of Science and Technology has a
peer advisor programme, where "students sign up to
help other students within that faculty." e CAPS
provides them with training in listening and helping
skills, dealing with students experiencing trauma, and
recognising common mental illnesses, like depression.
RAs also have a mental health component in their
training. "It's very important that sta know there is a
service that they can call for advice," if they're worried
about a student, "or can refer [that] student to."
ere are workshops too.
"We've run several 'Mind Your Madness:
Challenging the Stigma' workshops," which focus on
issues faced by students. She recalls one workshop
series that focused on "obsessive love," a topic relevant
to university students, as many are "negotiating serious
relationships for the rst time," and don't understand
that domestic violence is not only physical, says Dr.
Chin Yuen Kee. "Your partner checking your phone all
the time, criticising the way you dress, bad talking your
friends, or not wanting you to go back to your family
on the weekends," also constitutes abusive patterns.
" at was the most popular workshop ever," she says.
Another topic addressed "why sanity is a myth,"
and introduced the idea that "mental health exists on
a continuum. We can all have symptoms that, if they
were to persist [and] make us less capable of doing
our work, could actually constitute a diagnosable
condition, but doesn't mean you have that for life," says
Dr. Chin Yuen Kee. Mental health is uid. "Sometimes
we are more well and sometimes less well."
Other workshop topics include suicide, self-harm,
anxiety and depression. ese workshops are free
and open to the campus community so "people ...
understand [mental health] a little bit better and there
are fewer myths like, 'only weak people get depressed'.
at's just ridiculous," she says. ere are "genetic
reasons and underlying physiological factors that
Counselling services try to
people don't understand, so they think that mental
illness is in your head," and people experiencing
depression should simply pray about it or adopt a
better attitude. "But," she says, "if your biochemistry
is working against you," sometimes medication is
necessary, "just as you would take insulin for diabetes."
Dr. Chin Yuen Kee also talks about the CAPS
Open Mind Series which looks at "more provocative
stu ," like "why monogamy is a myth" and, last year's
workshop on sexuality which explored LGBT issues,
di erent sexualities and gender identities, the "ABCs
In 2013, the CAPS also established the Safe Space
programme, a therapeutic support group, which meets
weekly, to discuss issues of "sex, sexuality, gender
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