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Reimagining Behavioral Health

AICU Mass hosts behavioral health symposium at the College of the Holy Cross

More than 100 leaders from across the higher education community gathered earlier this month at the College of The Holy Cross for the second of a series of important AICU Mass convenings on the mental health crisis gripping our country’s youth.

The half – day event, sponsored in part by the Ruderman Family Foundation, featured the candid insights of campus counseling directors from campuses across the Commonwealth, ranging in topics from the everyday needs of students, defining the scope of practice for counseling centers to serve the broader mental health of the campus to responding to crises.

Nick Covino, president of William James College, kicked off the event and introduced the first panel comprising campus counseling center directors Dr. Craig Burns, Boston College; Dr. Brian Krylowicz, Springfield College; and Dr. Karen Singleton, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The panel discussed everyday issues confronting counseling centers, something as basic as making sure students are aware that support is available. Equally important is making sure students know they can find immediate support; misinformation often circulates with students thinking they have to wait weeks for an appointment. Success in reducing the stigma of talking about mental health and seeking support has contributed to a dramatic increase in the utilization of services, alongside a similar increase in the complexity of cases. Dr. Singleton offered that colleges and universities should invite campus counseling directors to academic and administrative meetings on campus to ensure that planning and decision making are seen through the lens of the counseling center. She noted this has been a “game changer” on the MIT campus.

Peter Twichell, program officer, Ruderman Foundation; Nick Covino, Ph.D., president, William James College; Sharon Shapiro, trustee, Ruderman Foundation; Rob McCarron, president, AICU Mass.

A second panel, comprising Charles C. Morse, dean of student wellness at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Dr. Julie Ross, director of counseling and mental health services at Tufts University, discussed the stark difficulties of supporting students in emergency situations. A critical factor is the lack of available beds due to staffing shortages at area hospitals, leading one of the panelists to remark: “The emergency mental health system in Massachusetts is broken.”

The event included keynote speaker Laura Braider, Ph.D., who talked about the many challenges in managing student psychiatric crisis, including a lack of communication between a hospital and a university; students minimizing symptoms in emergency rooms; students sent back to campus without communication; and a lack of knowledge of the school environment by hospital staff.

Laura Braider, Ph.D., director, College Mental Health at Northwell Health

Dr. Braider is the director of college mental health at Northwell Health, which participates in a unique collaboration between hospitals and colleges in New York. The Behavioral Health College Partnership is a hospital-based community service program that works closely with colleges/universities to provide:
• Navigation and protocol for communication between a hospital system and college/university during student psychiatric crisis and aftermath
• Evidence-based treatment, clinical staff and programming specialized for the college population

As Dr. Braider pointed out: “Having a young adult college inpatient unit immediately normalizes the experience for the students. They see peers and it immediately shifts the paradigm.”

BHCP was launched in 2009 and now includes 93 NY state colleges and universities.

With the unprecedented demand on colleges and universities to provide mental health resources on campus, AICU Mass recently successfully advocated for crucial investments by the Commonwealth to develop mental health support programs for students at public and private colleges. The proposed programs would:

• Create regional partial care “step-down” programs, similar to the NY model, designed to help college students transition back to campus following a mental health crisis requiring hospitalization or time away from campus. These programs would significantly lessen the burden on campus mental health staff and ensure better continuity of care for the students.

• Establish the Faculty Education Institute at William James College to provide mental health first aid training to faculty and staff of public and private institutions of higher education throughout the Commonwealth. This program will enable faculty and staff to better identify students in the early phases of mental health challenges.

Another convening is planned for March 2023.