This past week, the University of Connecticut hosted the President’s Symposium on Mental Health, with the conference focus and title, “Critical Connections: Fostering Cross-Functional Conversations on Student Mental Health.” The symposium was a success, bringing together leaders in both higher education and mental health research and practice. Doing so helps promote innovative and collaborative approaches to the key issue of mental health care on college campuses. It is critical that UConn continues this commitment to student mental health and seeks to remain a leader in this area. The conference signals a shift towards more long-term, comprehensive solutions – however UConn still has work to do in making sure that the current, immediate mental health resources on campus are up to par, with the shortage of Counseling and Mental Health Services staff and low availability of counseling appointments being a recurring issue.
Mental health care and advocacy have been receiving increasing mainstream attention, removing some of the stigma around mental health issues and making care more accessible. The college environment presents unique mental health challenges for students, whether pressure related to grades or one’s social life – both for those who have been diagnosed with anxiety and depression, and those who might feel overwhelmed or don’t know how to best cope with stress. As Elizabeth J. Cracco, director of UConn’s CMHS, said in an interview with UConn Today, there is “unprecedented demand” for mental health care services. Cracco discusses some of the proposed changes in models for delivering mental health care services, which would make them more available and accessible for students in the future. These include the possible incorporation of technology, discussion at orientation, incorporation of parents, as well as prevention training. The conference also discussed the role of race in mental health care, and how universities and providers should understand different stressors students of colors may face, and how to eliminate bias.
“This signals an important evolution in thinking,” Cracco said, “From mental health being only the purview of college and university counseling centers to the importance of a baseline level of awareness across the entire campus community.” It is very positive that UConn and other universities are taking this view. When universities prioritize students’ mental health, not only is it in the best interest of the individual students, but it empowers them to better contribute socially and intellectually to the entire community.