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Regents’ mental health report calls on USU, institutions to step up services

The Herald Journal - 9/19/2017

A new report to Utah’s higher education governing board calls on all of the state’s public colleges and universities to step up mental health services, provide mental health education to campus communities and report regularly on various goals.

The report’s release was the culminating action of the Board of Regents’ mental health working group, which included Ty Aller, a USU student and former student Regent, as well as Teresa Theurer, a Regent from Logan.

“Can we solve the problem? I’m not sure you can ever solve this kind of a problem,” Theurer said. “But can we help the problem and help the issue? We believe we can.”

The 16-member working group was formed after studybody governments at USU and other schools declared a “mental health crisis” on their campuses and the governor signed a resolution on the issue earlier this year.

The working group met five times and invited stakeholders and mental health experts to participate, according to the report, found on the Utah System of Higher Education’s website.

David Bush, director of USU’s counseling and psychological services, applauded the working group’s efforts, noting USU is already doing many of the things the report outlines.

“The thing I feel really good about is we’ve recognized the challenge; the students have stepped up and provided additional resources to address the challenge,” he said. “We’re collecting information not only for the studentbody so they’ll know their student fees are being spent wisely and effectively; but then we’re also looking at ways that we can educate the campus community.”

The latter initiative encourages students to “practice self-care … so their problems remain manageable and don’t require counseling services.”

That effort is similar to one of the working group’s recommendations requiring students at all public colleges and universities in Utah to receive “mental health literacy training.” In addition, faculty will receive similar training that is consistent with existing sexual assault/harassment training, the report said.

“Peers of students can sometimes recognize the behavior that’s concerning or they can be a help,” Theurer said.

“So our idea was if all students have some sort of a training, then they can be more aware of the signs and symptoms that a friend or associate might show.”

The working group’s report also calls on all institutions to complete a mental health and wellness evaluation of its students during the 2018-19 school year and “at least every three years” thereafter. The evaluations will be provided to the Board of Regents.

Bush admitted he was “a little concerned” with the effort the recommendations would entail on USU’s end.

“It going to put some responsibility on us to help them gather data. We’re already stretched pretty thin just trying to provide service,” he said. “But I think it’s worth it … to gather the information.”

The report recommends directors from each institution’s counseling center meet “at least annually” to discuss best practices, strategy and other topics related to mental health.

The report also includes recommendations for the ways Utah’s colleges and universities can address mental health professional shortages, including examining strategies for expanding services to better serve students. Those strategies could include increasing after hours and weekend hours for psychological services.

Bush noted students have experienced wait times to see counselors.

“Will we ever be able to eliminate the waitlist? In my mind, it’s unlikely. Even if we doubled the size of our staff, I don’t know that we would completely eliminate the wait,” Bush said. “So we have to maybe prioritize so we make sure that we’re providing service as soon as possible to the most severe cases.”

Aller wrote in an email to the newspaper he believes mental health on campus will be better addressed if all institutions are doing the same things.

“I would remind the Aggie family, and the rest of the state, that we are stronger together than we are apart,” he wrote.

Theurer noted many of the eight institutions in the Utah System of Higher Education, including USU, are already doing the things recommended in the working group’s report.

“The institutions are doing a lot and we just hope that this report and recommendations help them as they continue to try to meet the mental health issues that their students are facing,” she said.


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