At last week’s University of Minnesota Board of Regents meeting, President Joan Gabel took time to discuss her ongoing initiative to address student mental health.
Still in its early stages, the initiative aims to review and highlight the University’s current mental health resources for students and establish where improvement can be made. Gabel will continue to review the resources over the next few months and will present her findings at a later regents meeting.
The discussion also covered current mental health statistics on the University’s system campuses. This data will be used to inform future initiatives and the next steps forward.
According to the 2018 College Health Student Survey, each of the University system campuses has seen an uptick in the amount of mental illness diagnoses, with depression and anxiety being the main perpetrators. Cost is still a major barrier to those seeking support.
“Student mental health is a critical topic,” Gabel said at the meeting. “This attribute affects our students' ability to progress, to achieve and, in the worst case, is a question of life or death.”
However, some of the stigma around mental illnesses has gone down, said Carl Anderson, the assistant vice provost and director of Boynton Health, at the meeting. With a decrease in stigma, access to treatment has improved, he said.
Anderson also noted the increasing demand for student mental health services, particularly on the Crookston campus.
“Several years ago, I used to say that we are seeing unprecedented increases in mental health patient volumes. Now I have to say the annual increases have set a precedent,” Anderson said at the meeting. He emphasized that similar concerns are being seen throughout the country.
The scan also intended to provide insight into the mental health resources on campus that are currently offered.
While the University provides clinical services, such as individual and group therapy, the system is continuously implementing non-clinical options to support students in a variety of ways. These can include courses on stress and access to support animals.
The University has also included mental health activities and considerations in Welcome Week and student orientation programs. There has also been a focus on training faculty and staff.
The University is also looking to expand their non-clinical programs and increase resources for disabled students.
“Student groups … are doing a lot of work around this, so I would just advocate for finding ways to support that,” said Regent Mike Kenyanya at the meeting, who noted that peers can often be best suited for helping one another.
While there are clear areas of improvement, the initiative does not have a clear step forward, said Gabel.
Gabel also intends to represent the University at a mental health summit in St. Paul in May to show support for the Minnesota state colleges’ attempts to tackle the mental health crises.
“I believe one of the greatest obligations is to continue to connect with students where they are," Anderson said. “Underrepresented groups … have traditionally been underserved, and as a system, we must address this issue by improving our cultural competencies and overcoming our implicit bias.”