The University of Connecticut’s mental health services have come under fire the past few years. As a result, multiple student organizations have spoken up asking the university to increase them. One UConn student, in particular, wrote a proposal for change.
“Mental health affects almost every aspect of your life, your education, your productivity, your work experience, just the amount of things you get done and the way you go about life, your mental state is going to affect all of that,” former USG Hartford senator Brittany Diaz said.
Diaz, a fourth-semester pre-law political science major, created the proposal as a result of her personal frustration with UConn’s mental health services at the Hartford branch. She wrote it following the passing of UConn student Justin Niezrecki. She said she stayed up all night writing it, despite having an exam the next morning.
“I get to go to sleep and wake up, but Justin’s never going to wake up,” Diaz said on what she was thinking about following his death.
Her proposal focuses on raising the bar of student mental health services at all of UConn’s campuses.
“The idea here is to focus on the services we have here at UConn, but not only just Storrs but all of the regional campuses we have here at UConn as well,” Diaz said. “And to have new ways for students to learn and students to strive in areas and spaces where they are capable of still getting good grades and still going to class, still doing something whether they’re depressed or not.”
The proposal calls for UConn CMHS to expand the size of their staff, host more frequent events, increase advertising for services, acknowledge there is a gap in services between campuses, add academic plans for students struggling with mental health and create a “rigorous” training module for on-campus faculty and staff based on mental health among other points.
She sent the document to UConn’s President Thomas Katsouleas, and he responded to her email a couple of weeks ago. He also sent out a mass email to UConn students Wednesday to address widening mental health concerns.
“In response, we have hired six additional full-time clinical positions and launched a case management model for each of the regional campuses,” Katsouleas said in his email. “Different students present different needs based on their individual circumstances and history. Each requires an approach that is best suited for them, whether it is individual sessions, group therapy, case management, psychiatric care or emergency assessment.”
In response to Katsouleas’ email, Diaz said the following to The Daily Campus:
“Many students may not feel comfortable around a male therapist or social worker etc. Some students feel socially and culturally disconnected and need someone who can potentially relate to them and understand them on certain issues. For example, religion and language can cause cultural differences and create an impact around the culture of mental health. One resource for each campus isn’t enough.”
Diaz said she sought out the help of Hartford’s mental services but found just one staffer available for the whole campus. She said she resigned from USG Hartford after being told mental health was “not a priority” for the branch. However, she has been working with USG Storrs on the matter, who has a committee dedicated to its improvement.
In her proposal, she cited a statistic from Active Minds, a nonprofit organization dedicated to mental health awareness and education for students, that said “39% of students in college experience a significant mental health issue.” Active Minds also says on their website that two-out-of-three students with anxiety and depression do not seek treatment.
In the mass email, Katsouleas also announced a merger with the JED Foundation, which is a “non-profit dedicated to promoting mental health, emotional health and suicide prevention programs among teens and young adults,” to address mental health.
UConn will also be conducting a mental health study, starting Monday.