Learn which depression treatment option is right for you.

The Insider's Guide to Mental Health Resources for CU Boulder Students

An aerial view illustration of the picturesque CU Boulder campus nestled against the majestic backdrop of the iconic Flatirons. The bustling campus atmosphere reflects a sense of community and academic pursuit, while hinting at the mental health services tailored to CU Boulder students.

Accessing mental health resources for CU Boulder students can be daunting. Students face complexities such as understanding insurance plans, deductibles, and copays, managing busy class schedules, and securing appointments with available providers. This challenge is underscored by findings from the Healthy Minds Study, revealing that over 60% of college students meet criteria for mental health problems, with 44% reporting depression symptoms. Unfortunately, low treatment utilization rates persist, with studies indicating as few as 33% of students receiving necessary care. Most students can't even answer a question as simple as "Does CU Boulder have free therapy".

To address this, we sought insights from a recent CU Boulder graduate to break down student mental health services with Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) at CU Boulder and beyond.

The CAPS program at CU Boulder is included in tuition as a mental health resource fee of $97.40 per semester. Here’s what to expect with CAPS: 

CAPS Offerings 

  • Drop in sessions 
  • Workshops 
  • Counseling 
  • Psychiatry 
  • Interpersonal therapy groups 
  • Skill-based therapy groups 
  • WellTrack App 
  • Eating disorders 
  • Behavioral Health 
  • Academic LiveCare 
  • ADHD 
  • Substance Abuse 

    What to Expect from CAPS 

    20-minute intakes are the norm

    CU Boulder only has twenty-minute screening sessions no matter how complex the mental health condition is. 20 minutes may be enough for physical health and conditions like ADHD, especially if the student has been in treatment before coming to CU Boulder. But for more complex cases, such a short intake can lead to misdiagnosis. If a student is suffering from a complex mental health issue, they would benefit from having a 60-minute intake appointment with a board-certified psychiatric provider who can monitor the student closely.  

    Basic antidepressants and therapy

    While CU Boulder offers on-campus mental health resources, they are limited, and few treatment options are available at Wardenburg beyond daily pills and therapy. This can be a problem if you are treatment-resistant, which it turns out, many people are. In a landmark $35M study designed to research the effectiveness of antidepressants, meds were shown to achieve remission from depression symptoms in only 35% of the people who took them.  

    6 sessions are included in tuition

    This fee only includes 6 sessions for each student. If you or your student has a complex mental health issue, it may be better to go off-campus to find a longer-term solution. Any patient on antidepressants should have an appointment at least every 3 months with their provider to monitor the side effects and efficacy of the medication. Moreover, additional support like therapy and lifestyle coaching should also be employed.  

    How to Contact CAPS for an Appointment

    By no means are we saying that mental health resources for CU Boulder students through CAPS are inadequate. On the contrary. If you have well-managed mental health conditions that you feel could be resolved in fewer than 6 visits, it’s the best place to go. Or, if you want to combine group therapy for instance, with an off-campus provider, it’s a great resource. Bear in mind that CAPS is servicing 30,000 students, and a massive increase in mental health issues since the pandemic.

    It’s easy to connect with CAPS by scheduling a screening appointment. or a student can stop by for a same-day drop-in screening. 

    Beyond CAPS: Colorado's Mental Health Resources

    The state of Colorado's mental health system faces significant challenges amidst growing demand for services and limited resources. Among 50 states, Colorado's mental health system ranks 45th. The system struggles with issues such as long wait times for appointments, insufficient funding, and a shortage of mental health and wellness professionals. Additionally, the system grapples with addressing the needs of marginalized communities, including those facing homelessness, substance abuse disorders, and involvement with the criminal justice system.

    Mental health care in Colorado is organized into various levels of care to provide appropriate support and treatment based on the severity of symptoms and individual needs. If you're looking for mental health resources for CU Boulder students, it's important to choose the appropriate level of care for the individual. Here's an overview of the typical levels of care found in Colorado:  

    Safe2Tell, Colorado’s anonymous reporting platform, is available 24/7 365 days a year to anonymously report safety concerns of any type to people who can help. This includes students, faculty, staff, community members, and parents. Up until recently, Safe2Tell was primarily promoted in K-12 settings but is now being promoted on college campuses as an early detection tactic to prevent violence or harm to anyone in the community.

    Safe2Tell tips are relayed to CU police department’s emergency dispatchers, who work with trained staff to evaluate each situation to determine the most appropriate response carefully. If needed, police, licensed clinicians/co-responders or the student support office can be dispatched to assess the situation and take appropriate action.

    Crisis Care 

    In an emergency, call 911. An emergency situation would include a person who has thoughts of suicide and a plan.

    Thoughts of suicide without a plan is a crisis, rather than an immediate threat to life. In such a scenario, a crisis care center may be a better option, although we do encourage you to contact Safe2Tell as well.  

    CU Boulder offers a 24/7 crisis hotline for any student who needs help: 303-492-2277

    Mental Health Partners also offers a crisis line to call: 1 (844) 493-TALK (8255), or text TALK to 38255. They also have a Walk-in Crisis Center & Addiction Services at 3180 Airport Road, Boulder, CO that is open 24/7. 

    Outpatient Care

    This level of care involves meeting with a therapist, counselor, or psychiatrist on an outpatient basis. Sessions typically occur in clinics, private offices, or community mental health centers. 

    Outpatient care is suitable for individuals with mild to moderate symptoms who can manage their daily lives but may benefit from therapy or medication management. 

    In Colorado, outpatient care for student and resident mental health is often covered by insurance and can include individual therapy, group therapy, medication management, and other supportive services. 

    Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)

    IOP offers more structured and intensive treatment than standard outpatient care but allows individuals to continue living at home. 

    Participants typically attend sessions several times a week, often for several hours each day, and engage in group therapy, individual therapy, and skill-building activities. 

    IOP is suitable for individuals with moderate to severe symptoms who require more support than outpatient therapy alone can provide but does not require 24/7 supervision. 

    In Colorado, IOP services are available through mental health clinics and hospitals and may be covered by insurance. 

    Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP)

    PHP provides even more intensive treatment than IOP and typically involves daily treatment sessions at a mental health facility. 

    Participants spend most of their day at the program, engaging in therapy, medication management, and other therapeutic activities. 

    PHP is suitable for individuals with severe symptoms who need structured treatment and medical supervision but do not require round-the-clock care. 

    In Colorado, PHP services are usually offered through hospitals or specialized mental health facilities and may be covered by insurance. 

    Inpatient Hospitalization

    Inpatient treatment involves round-the-clock care in a psychiatric hospital or unit for individuals experiencing severe symptoms, such as suicidal ideation, psychosis, or severe mood disturbances. 

    Patients receive comprehensive psychiatric evaluation, medication management, therapy, and support in a highly structured and supervised environment. 

    Inpatient hospitalization is necessary when individuals are at immediate risk of harm to themselves or others and require intensive stabilization and treatment. 

    In Colorado, inpatient psychiatric services are available in hospitals across the state and are often covered by insurance, although coverage may vary. Of all the options, this is the most expensive, and can also be the most traumatic. While there is a time and a place for inpatient treatment, we've seen many patients emerge with medical PTSD from being unnecessarily forced into an inpatient program.

    Mental Health Symptoms, Care Options, and Contacts

    Here's a comprehensive table outlining different mental health symptoms, recommended level of care, type of provider, appropriate treatment environment for each option, and who to contact if you’re interested in learning more about each option. 

    SymptomsLevel of CareReasons to Use FacilityTreatment EnvironmentWho to Contact
    Anxiety/DepressionOutpatient•Initial Assessment
    •Mild to moderate symptoms
    •Step-down from higher levels of care
    Outpatient ClinicAxis Integrated Mental Health
    Moderate Anxiety/DepressionIntensive Outpatient Program (IOP)•Structured treatment
    •Increased support needed
    IOP FacilityNorthstar Transitions
    Severe Anxiety/DepressionPartial Hospitalization Program (PHP)•Severe symptoms
    •Need for medical supervision
    PHP FacilityNorthstar Transitions
    Suicidal ThoughtsInpatient Hospitalization•Immediate danger to self/others
    •Need 24/7 supervision
    Inpatient HospitalBoulder Community Health
    Unstable Bipolar Disorder Mania/HypomaniaInpatient Hospitalization•Stabilization of manic symptoms
    •Need for medication adjustment
    Inpatient HospitalCentennial Peaks
    Schizophrenia/Psychotic SymptomsInpatient Hospitalization•Acute Symptoms
    •Need for intensive monitoring
    Inpatient HospitalCentennial Peaks
    Substance AbuseInpatient/Outpatient•Need for structured program
    •Medical supervision
    Rehabilitation CenterSandstone Care
    Eating DisordersInpatient/Outpatient•Need for medical monitoring
    •Nutritional Counseling
    Eating Disorder ClinicLa Luna Center

    The Benefits of Choosing Outpatient Mental Health Care

    As you can see, mental health services for CU Boulder students are available both on and off campus, and the threshold for seeking mental health care should be low. Many mental health conditions including depression and anxiety disorders can be managed in an outpatient setting, especially if it’s caught early. Many people make the mistake of waiting until the situation is "severe enough" to get help, which not only makes it harder to recover, but also, far more expensive.

    Oftentimes, students don't want to tell parents how serious the condition is, or a student may not be aware that they have a problem. When concerns about a mental health condition first emerge, it’s better to consider an outpatient mental health clinic first for an initial diagnosis and to evaluate the level of services that an individual truly needs.

    The advantages of doing this include: 

    Specialized Care: Outpatient mental health clinics often have a wider range of specialists and resources available compared to school services. This means that students with specific or complex mental health needs may receive more tailored and comprehensive care. 

    Access to treatments beyond daily pills: 79% of antidepressants are prescribed in primary care settings without specialist intervention. While antidepressants are a good first line of defense for mental health issues, more advanced treatments like Spravato and TMS provide faster relief, are covered by insurance, and have fewer side effects. Treatments like TMS are also drug-free and can avoid the polypharmacy cascade that can happen with antidepressants. 

    Confidentiality: While schools often strive to maintain confidentiality, some students may feel more comfortable discussing sensitive issues with a mental health professional off campus. Outpatient clinics typically adhere to strict privacy and confidentiality policies, which can provide students with a greater sense of privacy and security. 

    Continuity of Care: Outpatient clinics can offer ongoing and consistent care, even during school breaks or after graduation. This continuity of care can be especially important for students who require long-term treatment or support. 

    Flexibility in Scheduling: On-campus mental health resources for CU Boulder students may have limited availability due to high demand or scheduling conflicts with classes and other school activities. Outpatient clinics often offer more flexible appointment times, making it easier for students to schedule appointments around their academic and extracurricular commitments. Axis Integrated Mental Health even offers Saturday appointments for example. 

    Greater Autonomy: Seeking mental health services outside of the school setting can empower students to take control of their own mental health care and make decisions about their treatment independently. This autonomy can be particularly valuable for older students who are transitioning to adulthood. 

    Local prescribers make it easy to get meds: Many states do not allow controlled substances to be prescribed across state lines and patients run the risk of running out of meds or having to illegally ship them via mail from home. Having a local prescriber means that you can get your meds called into Wardenberg, or in the case of ADHD meds, a pharmacy that has them during a shortage. 

    One-Stop Shopping: With Axis Integrated Mental Health, diagnosis, medication management, therapy and treatment are combined under one roof making it simpler to manage logistics, insurance coverage and billing. Psychiatric providers, therapists, and treatment providers work together as one collaborative care team and can all be coordinated with one call rather than having to find different providers for each specialty. If the level of support an individual needs is more than what we can provide, we will refer out to the appropriate level of care and help you navigate the system.

    Lower cost: outpatient clinics accept insurance, even out-of-state insurance, which means appointments, therapy, and treatments can be covered at a lower cost than higher acuity settings like hospitals. 

    Outpatient Mental Health Resources for CU Boulder Students in 7 Days or Less 

    We hope that this guide helps you to find the right mental health resources for CU Boulder students. No matter why you need mental health support, our Louisville clinic is ready to help in 7 days or less. Our empathy for CU Boulder students runs deep – some of our team members are parents of students there, and many are CU Boulder alumni themselves. We understand the challenges students face, and we believe every student deserves holistic and personalized mental health support, no matter how long their journey is. Our goal is to provide personalized care to everyone who walks through our doors, empowering them to overcome mental health struggles and live their best lives. 

    2024 All rights reserved.
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