SUNY Announces Plans to Expand Mental Health Services for Students Across 64 Colleges and Universities

June 23, 2021

Upon Recommendation of Chancellor Malatras, the Board of Trustees Approves Recommendations of SUNY’s Student Mental Health and Wellness Task Force to Help Shatter Mental Health Stigma, Bring Additional Licensed Mental Health Professionals onto Campuses, and Create Culture of Early Intervention

Recommendations Build on Comprehensive Program Launched by SUNY Last Fall, Including Thriving Campus Partnership Connecting Students with More than 6,000 Service Providers, Addition of Second Tele-Counseling Hub, Expansion of Peer-to-Peer Hotline, and #ReachOutSUNY Campaign

New York City – The State University of New York Board of Trustees today adopted a series of recommendations recommended by Chancellor Jim Malatras to expand mental health services for students across SUNY’s 64 colleges and universities. The recommendations developed by the SUNY Student Mental Health and Wellness Task Force—co-chaired by Dr. Wayne J. Riley, MD, and Dr. Deborah F. Stanley. The Task Force recommendations will help shatter the stigma associated with seeking help for mental health struggles and build a culture of early intervention where an increasing number of students, faculty, and staff are armed with the knowledge and training needed to help those in crisis connect with the services they need. The recommendations will bring additional licensed mental health professionals onto SUNY campuses, while forging new community partnerships and uncovering untapped funding streams that will provide additional treatment options for students.

The recommendations build on a series of initiatives unveiled last fall by Chancellor Malatras and the Board of Trustees to help students grappling with increased feelings of isolation, fear, loneliness, and depression triggered by the pandemic. Those include announcing a new partnership with Thriving Campus, a mobile-friendly web application that connects students to more than 6,000 specialized mental health service providers; adding a second tele-counseling hub at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University; making a peer-to-peer assistance hotline operated at the University at Albany available to all SUNY students; and the launching of the #ReachOutSUNY public awareness campaign.

The system-wide Student Mental Health and Wellness Task Force was formed in the fall of 2019 to explore existing practices and public health approaches across the nation to help SUNY better address the mental health and wellness needs of its students. The group—coordinated by Student Advocate and Senior Advisor to the Chancellor John Graham—is comprised of system administration staff, campus presidents, counseling center and student affairs staff, faculty, and state and national mental health experts.

The recommendations come at a crucial juncture for the college student population. The pandemic has exacerbated mental health struggles among college students. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four people aged 18-24 contemplated suicide in June of 2020, compared to one in 10 in 2018. In the same survey, 41 percent of respondents reported at least one mental health condition.

"At SUNY, we believe no student should struggle to complete their coursework or thrive in college because they’re grappling with their mental health. Today’s comprehensive recommendations approved by the Board of Trustees will be crucial to reducing the stigma that surrounds seeking help, adding more licensed mental health professionals to our campuses, and expanding a series of preexisting programs that are already helping thousands of students," said Chancellor Malatras. "At the height of the pandemic, students were adamant that we bolster our mental health services and we heard them loud and clear. That’s why we eased access to thousands of outside providers, added a second tele-counseling hub, expanded a successful peer-to-peer hotline, and launched a campaign to reduce stigma and raise awareness about available services. These measures align closely with the early intervention focus outlined in today’s recommendations. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but we’re on the right track. I want to thank Dr. Wayne Riley and Dr. Deborah Stanley for co-chairing the Student Mental Health and Wellness Task Force that put forth these recommendations, and the Board of Trustees—especially the work of Chairman Merryl Tisch and Trustee Eunice Lewin—for prioritizing an issue that is paramount to our students’ academic and personal success."

SUNY Board Trustee Eunice Lewin said, "We know all too well how important of an issue mental health is throughout our nation, and especially so for college students, who come to our campuses looking to cultivate a home away from home and pursue a higher education, which can bring about stress and uncertainty for many. Over the past 16 months, mental health concerns have only escalated, and it is our responsibility to face these needs head-on and ensure that we are putting the health and safety of our students at the top of our priority list. We have heard the needs of our students and we need to act. The recommendations contained within the report have been crafted with the wellbeing of every one of our students as a focal point, and we look forward to our continued work on this timely issue and providing more robust services to our students."

SUNY Board Trustee Gwen Kay said "The mental health of SUNY students is a priority for everyone—for us as leaders and for me and my fellow faculty members who look beyond the educational curriculum to make sure our students are thriving. Talking about mental health with our students, knowing the signs of when a student is need, and being equipped to be of assistance improves our ability to be effective advocates. We appreciate the expansion of mental health resources and services this year and Chancellor Malatras’ focus on this issue, and now these recommendations from the Task Force to move forward."

Riley, MD, SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University President and Student Mental Health and Wellness Task Force Co-Chair, said, "As we return to a sense of normalcy, our students' mental health and wellness challenges continue to be of paramount concern. The stigma associated with seeking mental health and wellness care support can only be removed by making resources readily accessible and a mainstay. I am grateful to the SUNY Board of Trustees, Chairman Tisch, and Trustee Lewin for their leadership and for recognizing the importance of establishing the Task Force. I am certain that under Chancellor Malatras' leadership, our students will be much better for it."

Stanley, SUNY Oswego President and Student Mental Health and Wellness Task Force Co-Chair, said, "By establishing the Student Mental Health and Wellness Task Force, Chairman Tisch and Trustee Lewin, along with the entire SUNY Board of Trustees, have focused on some of the most significant challenges facing our students today. The Task Force members—all caring and expert SUNY professionals—have delved deep to study and understand the issues and offer important recommendations aimed at ending the stigma of seeking help on college campuses and expanding mental health and wellness services on our campuses. We believe such strategies will set SUNY on a path of meeting our students’ needs and providing new, enhanced standards of care for student mental health challenges. With Chancellor Malatras' leadership, our students will benefit immediately in truly accessible ways and in real time."

John Graham, Student Advocate and Senior Advisor to the Chancellor, said, "Our Mental Health and Wellness Task Force has been collecting data and direct feedback from students regarding mental health services, with a focus on accessibility and the diversity of options available. We know that each of our campuses have varying degrees of resources that students can take advantage of, and based on the recommendations set forth from the Task Force, we can assist campus leadership to ensure that every student has access to the care they need. I appreciate the leadership of SUNY Downstate President Riley and SUNY Oswego President Stanley as chairs of the Task Force, as well as the many individuals throughout our system who have helped compile this work—their efforts have allowed us to create clear directives on how to move forward on student mental health."

The main recommendations stemming from the report are as follows:

Ending Stigma Associated with Seeking Help

  • Establish early intervention culture
  • Cultivate a mental health and well-being workforce by providing graduate training and internships to early career professionals
  • Develop a Community of Practice (CoP) comprised of student mental health and well-being personnel
  • Establish training opportunities for Resident Directors, Resident Assistants, and other student-facing positions that direct students to mental health services and programs.

Increase Number of Licensed Mental Health Service Professionals on SUNY Campuses

  • Publish a SUNY-wide Request for Proposals to increase counseling and mental health professionals on all campuses
  • Prepare a multi-year funding/hiring plan
  • Continue to expand and enhance reach of services and programs already launched by SUNY, including tele-counseling, QPR (Question-Persuade-Refer) Training, the National Crisis Text Line, Thriving Campus, and Middle Earth Peer Assistance Program hotline services
  • Explore a partnership with the Jed Foundation

Seek and Leverage External Funding, Resources, and Partnerships to Further Expand Mental Health and Wellness Services

  • Partner with local communities, nonprofits, employers, and faith-based organizations to generate creative strategies for promoting and augmenting student mental health and wellbeing
  • Seek external investments in SUNY through foundations, federal, and state grant opportunities, and government funds that will support the advancement of mental health and well-being programs and services

Create Permanent Mental Health and Wellness Positions at SUNY

  • Create the position of associate vice chancellor for health and wellness within SUNY System to lead system-wide expansion of mental health services
  • Establish a SUNY Mental Health and Wellness Advisory Committee that will lead the enhancement and mobilization of mental health and wellness services, harmonize efforts across campuses, and provide periodic progress updates to SUNY Board of Trustees

The recommendations from the Student Mental Health and Wellness Task Force include expanding and enhancing a number of preexisting services, many of which were launched or augmented last fall and are already generating results.

Thriving Campus—the mobile-friendly application that bridges the gap between campus counseling services and local mental health and wellness service providers with just a few simple clicks—has moved from two to 20 campuses since October, resulting in nearly 1200 student visits to services providers.

With the addition of a second hub, tele-counseling services that connect students to physicians, psychologists, or nurse practitioners through a secure online platform at no charge have been utilized at six additional campuses and 16 overall.

Since launching the #ReachOutSUNY campaign, SUNY’s experienced a marked uptick in students, faculty, and staff completing the QPR online crisis training program. QPR teaches people how to recognize someone in severe emotional distress or experiencing suicidal thoughts, and how to appropriately engage and connect that person to the right resources. To date, more than 2,600 people have completed the training.

To add a layer of support for students who are not in crisis but may be struggling with their mental health, Chancellor Malatras—with the help of the Student Voices Action Committee—launched the Student Mental Health Peer Advocates Training Program. Since April, approximately 500 students have learned proven strategies for assisting those in non-crisis situations, but who may be showing signs of depression or distress. The training is done through the Active Minds VAR: Validate, Appreciate® tool, which teaches students methods for opening up conversations with those who may be struggling. This strategy leads to more early interventions, instances where students get the help they need before reaching a major crisis situation.

About the State University of New York
The State University of New York is the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the United States, and more than 95 percent of all New Yorkers live within 30 miles of any one of SUNY's 64 colleges and universities. Across the system, SUNY has four academic health centers, five hospitals, four medical schools, two dental schools, a law school, the state’s only college of optometry, and manages one US Department of Energy National Laboratory. In total, SUNY serves about 1.3 million students amongst its entire portfolio of credit- and non-credit bearing courses and programs, continuing education, and community outreach programs. SUNY oversees nearly a quarter of academic research in New York. Research expenditures system-wide are nearly $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2021, including significant contributions from students and faculty. There are more than three million SUNY alumni worldwide, and one in three New Yorkers with a college degree is a SUNY alum. To learn more about how SUNY creates opportunity, visit suny.edu.


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