The effort, announced in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month in May, is part of a major overhaul of the university’s mental health services in response to a growing need from students, officials said.
In total, the campus is launching 60 different initiatives aimed at identifying and supporting student mental health.
Beth Lesen, vice president of student affairs, said the plan to scale up mental health services was actually in the works before the pandemic, but now it’s more important than ever as students return to campus after distance learning semesters.
“Even before the pandemic, 69% of college presidents nationwide said mental health was a top concern,” Lesen said. “Our core age group, 18 to 24, is the average age of initial onset for many issues, and it has certainly accelerated during the pandemic.”
In a campus survey, 86% of students say they live moderate or high stress in the past year, while 27% reported the death of a friend or family member of COVID-19.
Lesen said the pandemic has been particularly difficult for minorities, first-generation and low-income students, and the campus will have a special emphasize diversity and culturally informed practices.
The mobile crisis unit in place of the police has long been requested by the campus community, she said. The unit has two mental health professionals who can respond to emergencies, with the possibility of expansion in the years to come.
“The idea is that we would like to reduce the number of crises that uniformed officers have to respond to,” she said. “Because when people are going through something as vulnerable as a psychiatric crisis, a uniformed officer’s response can be unsettling to anyone, but especially to our communities of color.”
In other actions, the university will use a community of “Care Agents” of students, faculty, and staff who can help proactively identify difficulties and prevent a future crisis. the university will also expand support for student families and increase its support in Spanish.
In another major initiative, the campus launched a text message outreach program that has so far shown promising results, Lesen said.
In a pilot program this semester, the campus targeted 1,400 mid-semester transfer students with text messages from peers to check for any mental health needs at critical times, like midterms or finals. Lesen said about half of the students responded by text, with responses ranging from “I don’t need any help right now, but I’m glad you’re doing this” to “I need some help.” ‘Help, my father just died’.
Lesen said the idea is to reach out to students first, without them having to be the ones to come forward.
This fall, the campus will expand the program to all of its 11,000 incoming students. Lesen said it’s important for students to know that text messages are always from a real person and they can reply at any time.
“It also lets them know how much we care and that we are here,” she said. “It makes a larger campus (of over 39,000 students) feel smaller.”
Bridging Wellness series features workshops and events in honor of Mental Health Month