How colleges are expanding access to mental health services

Embedded counselors may reside in residence halls, dentistry schools, or even athletic departments.

Colleges are increasingly embedding counselors into non-counseling departments across campus to expand access to mental health resources, Jake New reports for Inside Higher Ed.

In April, two Skidmore College students launched a petition requesting that the school hire an additional counselor, create a 24-hour hotline for students with urgent—but not suicidal—mental health concerns, and keep a 24-hour on-the-spot crisis counselor on campus.

Responding to the petition, Skidmore said that it was already working to hire another counselor and provide a 24-hour hotline, but that it could not offer a round-the-clock crisis counselor on campus "because it simply is not affordable, nor is it part of a realistic mission for an institution of higher education."

Also see: Around 1 in 7 college students were treated for anxiety in past year

Institutions generally want to offer a greater range of services but cannot always afford to do so, says Victor Schwartz, medical director for the Jed Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to prevent suicide among college students.

"Obviously universities don't exist to provide health and mental health care, but they do it because it's important," Schwartz says. "At the same time, clearly there are conflicting priorities, with people looking how best to spend the dollars that are there."

A growing number of colleges are using the resources they already have available to embed counselors in buildings across campus, including Northwestern University, Ohio State University, and the University of Michigan.

The University of Iowa (UI) announced last semester that it would hire eight new counselors to increase access to mental health services. But instead of working in the university's counseling center, some of the counselors are being embedded in other buildings on campus. One counselor has been embedded in UI's College of Dentistry for years, while another was hired last year to be embedded in the athletic department. UI also plans to embed a counselor in a residence hall on the east side of campus, opposite from the counseling center on the west side of campus.

Related: Best practices for behavioral intervention teams

Embedded counseling helps the UI's counseling center save money, with departments that house embedded counselors often paying for their services, says counseling director Barry Schreier.

"Resources for mental health services are not bottomless, so this is a way for counseling centers, who have previously only drawn resources from student affairs, to draw on resources from other parts of campus," Schreier says. "If the athletic department or the College of Dentistry can provide the resources, we can provide the services" (New, Inside Higher Ed, 6/3).

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