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University at Albany joins program to support mental health

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By Madeline St. Amour

Staff Writer

theaspnews@gmail.com

UAlbany is part of The Jed & Clinton Health Matters Campus Program
UAlbany is part of The Jed & Clinton Health Matters Campus Program. Photo from pomona.edu

On Oct. 2, the University at Albany was one of 56 schools that signed up to be a part of the Jed & Clinton Health Matters Campus Program.

   The program, a partnership between The Jed Foundation and The Clinton Foundation Health Matters Initiative, aims to help schools better support their students’ mental health, as well as prevent substance abuse and suicide.

   The first step is an assessment of the schools’ current abilities related to mental health wellness. The checklist given out by the program includes everything from making sure all students have health insurance, to requiring programs related to financial aid and management, to having naloxone available for those who need it, to restricting access to areas like rooftops and balconies. Then, throughout the four years, the colleges will begin filling in their weak spots that were found in the initial assessment. Mental health and substance abuse prevention programming will be the main focuses.

   The Campus Program Framework has nine parts: policy, systems and strategic planning, develop life skills, connectedness, academic performance, student wellness, identify students at risk, increase help-seeking behavior, provide mental health and substance use disorder services, means restriction and environmental safety. The program’s idea is that each school has to fully develop each part of the framework to have a strong and comprehensive mental health support system for its students.

   Dr. Dolores Cimini, the Assistant Director for Prevention and Program Evaluation at the UAlbany Counseling Center and the Director of the Middle Earth Peer Assistance Program, wrote in an email that UAlbany chose to be a part of this program because one of its priorities is to offer “programs and services that support [students’] emotional and behavioral health.”

   UAlbany, along with the other 55 schools, is making a four-year commitment to this program. During this time, the university will be evaluated against the program’s standards and hen it will identify opportunities to improve. What the Campus Programs gives schools is the “framework for supporting mental health,” along with assessments, feedback, and ongoing technical assistance. This commitment to the Campus Program symbolizes UAlbany’s overall commitment to the wellbeing and mental health of its students, Dr. Cimini wrote.

   “Since 2005, UAlbany has been implementing a comprehensive mental health promotion and suicide prevention program funded in part by two grants… Focus areas include the education of the campus community on warning signs for suicide and the promotion of good mental health, early mental health screening and referral of students in distress, and training and education of the campus community about resources for on-campus support,” she wrote.

   Last year, on Oct. 2, UAlbany was one of 25 campuses awarded the JedCampus Seal from The Jed Foundation for its comprehensive mental health promotion and suicide prevention programming.

   The mental health of college-age students seems to be a rising issue in the United States. In 2013, the National Survey of College Counseling Centers found that 9 in 10 administrative  heads of counseling centers have reported an increase in the number of students who have come to campus counseling centers because of psychological problems, and almost half have noticed an increase in self-injury behaviors in students. However, when asked if UAlbany has seen similar statistics, Dr. Cimini wrote that, “because of our aggressive mental health promotion and alcohol and substance abuse and suicide prevention efforts, we have seen significant reductions over the past decade in mental health factors, such as depression.”

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