New programs and systems aim to overcome student mental health issues

Published by adviser, Author: Daniel DiFabio - News Editor , Date: October 27, 2017
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SRU’s Student Health Services and Counseling Center are working on new methods to help students deal with feelings of anxiety, stress and suicide.

One newly implemented program being offered by Student Health Services includes the emotional wellness program, which will see one professional staff member and 10 student peer coaches, as well as resources and supplies the coaches would need.

Renee Bateman, health promotion coordinator, said this program is funded by the increased student health fees which were approved towards the end of last semester, with the amount averaging $7 per student a semester.

Bateman said the peer coaches will get started with their training on Nov. 7 and will begin working with students in the spring semester.

“They’ll be getting matched up with students who want to have coach,” Bateman said. “We’re looking for students who may want to get better connected on campus, students who may be having issues or concerns transitioning to college, or students overwhelmed.”

Bateman said the peer coaches would be able to help students learn new skills as well, including stress management. The coaches will also be knowledgeable on where to refer students for certain issues and what situations may require another team member on campus.

“Whatever the issues or concerns may be, a coach will reach out to them, find out when they want to meet, and find out what are some goals they [the students] have and how the coach can help empower them to reach their goals and navigate the process with them,” Bateman said.

Bateman said the introduction of the emotional wellness program came based on student need, as well as what students have been telling Health Services.

“We’ve been tracking what’s going and and we’ve seen that stress, anxiety, depression and sleep difficulties are some of the top factors that are impacting their academic success,” Bateman said. “That’s a concern for us.”

Bateman said that 46 percent of students have rated overall stress higher than average, which is slightly higher than the national average.

“If you benchmark that with all the schools who participate in this survey nationwide, SRU is benchmarking a little higher than nationwide,” Bateman said. “It’s not extreme, but it’s about 6 percent higher.”

According to Bateman, 60 percent of students have told Health Services that they want more information about depression, anxiety, stress management and how to help a friend in distress.

“I feel like there’s not only a need but students are telling us it’s something that they want more of as well,” Bateman said.

From the 2015-16 school year, Health Services had 1,106 mental health visits, with about 101 visits related to suicidal ideation. This number has actually decreased, with the 2016-17 school year having 1,015 students visiting for psychological needs, and 73 of those were for suicidal ideations. 1,146 students visits for the 2016-17 school year were for assistance with psychological concerns, including suicidal ideation psychiatric hospitalization and eating disorders issues.

Bateman said the goal of health services and the new emotional wellness program is a prevention effort; finding ways to give students strategies to help them in the future. Students can refer themselves or others through the Care Network, which can be reached through SRU’s website.

“We’re working to touch base with everyone and get them connected to the appropriate program,” Bateman said.

Lisa Osachy, director of SRU’s Counseling Center, said that her office is using a therapy-assisted online (TAO) system to help students, with modules available online concerning anxiety, depression, alcohol, and other mental health issues.

“A student would be able to watch that on their computer then have the opportunity for check-ins,” Osachy said.

According to Osachy the TAO system has not been fully implemented yet, with it being offered to some students for a sort of test run.

The Counseling Center offers students six appointments per semester, with the first appointment consisting of getting a students’ background, including health issues and medication. After that five sessions are given to students, where they will see some of the center’s three full-time counselors or students who are working at the center as part of their masters’ or doctorate in counseling.

Osachy said that, according to the International Association of Counseling Services (IACS), which is the center’s accreditation body, the counseling center is understaffed.

Osachy said she hopes to improve upon the services offered to students, including not having to wait as long for appointments. To combat this, the center is offering more group sessions.

“We’re doing groups earlier this year and we’re offering more of them,” Osachy said.

So far three counseling groups are currently being offered at the counseling center, including an interpersonal group for students who want to work on how they’re being perceived by others, and LGBT group called Sanctuary, and Mindful Monday, which helps students learn skills of how to cope with negative emotions.

“The great thing about group therapy is you learn from each other,” Osachy said. “We bring people together that share some common goals and you’re [students] are learning from your peers. It’s a very powerful mode of treatment.”

Osachy said she hopes to also offer a grief group and a sexual assault support group for students.

There has also been an increased number of students who have emergency appointments, with 63 students this year (as of Oct. 12), compared to 23 last year at the same time period.

“That’s a huge increase,” Osachy said. “Everyone is feeling it.”

The counseling center has also had five hospital already this year, where there were 11 last year for the whole year.

“We’re already on track to double that at least,” Osachy said.

Students who are looking to receive more information for services offered can visit Student Health Services or the Counseling Center’s page on SRU’s website.

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