College seeks to improve mental health resources

by Sunny Drescher | 5/11/18 2:50am

by Ioana Solomon / The Dartmouth

The increase in student demand for mental health resources — both at Dartmouth and at the national level — has led “The Call to Lead” capital campaign to allocate $17 million towards supporting student mental health resources on campus, according to Dean of the College Rebecca Biron.

Director of the College’s health service Reed said that the funding is intended to serve three main focus areas for students’ mental health: improving timely accessibility to mental health services, providing ongoing support to help students and offering education and prevention programs for faculty, staff and students.

These goals may be fulfilled through various initiatives across campus, according to a campus-wide email that broke down “The Call to Lead” budget priorities from Student Assembly president Monik Walters ’19 and Student Assembly vice president Nicole Knape ’19. Although Walters and Knape wrote that the College would hire five new counselors at Dick’s House as part of these initiatives in a campus-wide email, vice president for communications Justin Anderson wrote in an email statement that the College has not yet decided how many new counselors will be hired.

“Dartmouth is committed to recruiting new counselors ... [but] that level of specificity has not yet been determined and is dependent on fundraising,” he wrote.

“Mental health issues present some of the greatest barriers to students taking full advantage of what Dartmouth has to offer,” Reed said. “We’re really excited that Dartmouth is seeing this as an important issue.”

Biron said the decision to focus on mental health was part of a larger effort to transform the residential life experience and occurred in response to student needs. She said that the allocation of funds was a process of “collecting, collating and then prioritizing ideas that [came] from various locations on campus.”

Reed said that mental health trends at the College resemble national trends, citing a 30 percent increase in students utilizing college counseling centers nationally and a 40 percent increase in admissions to the College infirmary for counseling reasons over the past five years.

Director of the counseling services at Dick’s House Heather Earle echoed that there has been an increased demand for mental health services at Dartmouth, adding that there has subsequently been an increased effort to reach more students and to collaborate between different mental health related groups, including faculty, staff, undergraduate advisors and groups through the Student Wellness Center.

An example of this increased collaboration is counseling services’ decision to switch its intake mechanism a few years ago from an individual intake model to a triage system, according to Earle. She said that this switch has allowed more students to access mental health resources quickly in addition to helping service providers direct students towards the best resources and support services on campus for their specific needs.

Biron said that the increase in demand is more complex than simply saying that students today are more depressed or anxious than in the past. She said that examining trends relating to students and mental health is a “nuanced situation where some of [the increase in demand] is about increased awareness and willingness to seek out support services.”

Earle emphasized the importance of outreach for mental health services on campus to encourage students to seek out resources and said that the counseling center does close to 300 hours of outreach per term. She said that although these outreach programs are not new, they are recently starting to catch on and resonate with students as mental health issues become less stigmatized.

Director of the Student Wellness Center Caitlin Barthelmes said that the increased demand for mental health services allows Dartmouth to strengthen its “network of care,” which ranges from the housing communities to programming committees to formal mental health services. As more people talk about the importance of mental health, she said, the stigma surrounding mental health will hopefully continue to decrease and it will be easier for students to access appropriate resources.

“The more our community shows that they care about mental health and shows that they care about each other, the better can provide students the opportunity to get into the network of care,” Barthelmes said.

Walters said she thinks that this allocation of resources to mental health services for students will help the College proactively address issues rather than reactively.

“Dartmouth is taking the initiative to listen to what the students are saying and using that feedback to promote actual change and to put resources in place that students feel like they can access,” Walters said.

Barthelmes said that students are increasingly willing to talk openly about their emotions and mental health with each other and the larger Dartmouth community, which is vital to address mental health issues on both individual and macro levels.

“If you think of mental health as a public health issue, to be able to engage all community members — including having active student participants trying to come up with solutions and trying to create support for each other — is a really important part of the pie,” Barthelmes said.

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