Group working to improve access to mental health resources
U-M will roll out two new, student-friendly mental health resources March 9, including a Web site and a map showing the locations of services.
These resources are among the recommendations in a report of the Mental Health Work Group (MHWG) in the Division of Student Affairs. All of the recommendations were accepted by E. Royster Harper, vice president for student affairs, and the group immediately began implementing them.
The new resources are the first in a series of actions, says Stephanie Pinder-Amaker, associate dean of students and recently designated chair of the group, composed of senior representatives from all units supplying mental health care to students on the Central and Medical campuses. "Our idea was to announce these new resources in time for the Depression on College Campuses conference that begins tomorrow," Pinder-Amaker says. A third resourcea brochure listing all of the student mental health serviceswill be available before the end of Winter Term, she says.
Harper convened the MHWG in 2001. She charged members with reviewing the current status of mental health services for U-M students, and "to identify qualities of an optimal system of care, major barriers to such a system, options to correct or reduce these barriers, and finally to recommend ways to ensure ongoing oversight of such services."
All of the group's recommendations are designed to create a simpler, more seamless system of mental health resources, Harper says. "We have had good programs in place, but the network was complicated," she says. "The point is to offer the students a system of programs that flow seamlessly from one to the other, and to make the resources more visible and welcoming to students who need them."
College-age students are more likely than any other age group to experience mental illness. Nationwide, the numbers of students with depression seen by university mental health professionals during the past decade has doubled. One in 12 college students in the United States will make a suicide plan, and seven of every 100,000 college students die each year from suicide, according to the group's report given to Harper in May 2003.
Members of the group interviewed students from undergraduate and graduate programs, and senior staff who work closely with students. They represented various areas within the University, including Academic Advising, University Housing, the International Center and Services for Students with Disabilities.
Besides improving access to mental health resources such as those already mentioned, included among the group's recommendations are:
• Addressing the stigmatization of mental illness as a powerful barrier to students. The report recommends creating a systematic way of addressing these issues in which all mental health programs on campus participate. Stigma prevents some people from certain cultures from reaching out for help and obtaining mental health care;
• Making the prevention of suicide and harm a long-term goal for the University. This currently is represented by outreach and training programs offered by Counseling and Psychological Services, but should be expanded to target high-risk students and high-risk groups, the recommendations say. Alcohol use, academic difficulty and origin from certain high-risk cultural groups are specific risk factors for suicide and self-harm;
• Monitoring funding and staffing needs in the context of the increasing complexity of mental illnesses; for instance, there is a need for increased funding and staffing to better serve international students in North Campus Family Housing. To identify ways to improve services, monitoring should be based on a commitment to standardization in the collection of data on student visits;
• Improving and formalizing the processes of referral and use of community resourceskey elements to the coordination of careby working more closely with community mental health services to create a list of providers who can ensure timely access and care to students at a reasonable cost.
Another of the recommendations already implemented is a University-wide student Withdrawal (for mental health reasons) and Re-Admission Policy, including an evaluation prior to the return of the student to ensure that he or she is ready to return and has an adequate support system in place.
Most of the original group will stay on to implement the report's recommendations, says Pinder-Amaker, who took over as chair following the leadership of Robert Winfield, director of the University Health Service. Winfield remains a member. One member of the original group, who represented the same area as another member, left. Patrice Flax, coordinator for alcohol and other drugs campus initiatives, was added to the group.