Student mental health focus of Binghamton University Council presentation

University takes a comprehensive approach to supporting students

Binghamton University Council heard about health and counseling initiatives from the Division of Student Affairs at its first meeting of the academic year.

“Our topic to focus on today is student mental health,” Vice President for Student Affairs Brian Rose said. “It’s a tough topic — probably the most challenging we have — but we wanted the opportunity to explain some of the efforts we’re undertaking and why.”

Rose said the challenge in student mental health is that the rates of psychological distress for adolescents and young adults began shooting up in 2013, and are continuing to rise.

“What do we do about it and how do we think about it?” he said.

Not simply through counseling, but by using a comprehensive model that involves about two dozen offices and initiatives across campus.

Johann Fiore-Conte, assistant vice president for health and wellness, explained that Binghamton University has used the JED Model, named after a 1988 suicide victim, since 2015 and is now a JED Alumni Campus. A comprehensive mental health promotion and suicide prevention program for colleges and universities, the JED process involves self-assessments, consultation and meetings, post-program assessments.

The evidence-based model is tactical and looks at strategic areas that should be addressed in any community wide effort to support mental health, with activities and efforts that the University can implement in each of the strategic areas.

“Most attention seems to go to counseling,” Rose said. “But in truth, many offices are part of the continuum of care, beyond counseling.”

The clinical care numbers from the past year tell part of the story. Though the University Counseling Center had nearly 9,000 individual appoints for about 2,200 unique students, the University’s psychiatrist also held 2,165 appointments, there were more than 700 off-campus referrals and 210 students were able to Skype with their home providers, among other supports provided to students.

And there is a non-clinical safety net that includes the CARE Team, Students of Concern Committee, Threat Assessment Team, University Police Department, Student Emergency Fund and Bear Necessities Food Pantry.

“There are a number of components and ways that other offices get involved,” Rose explained. “The CARE team is the first point of contact for students with any particular concern — anything and everything. Beyond the CARE team, if a student presents in a way that raises concern for well-being, we elevate it to the Students of Concern Committee, a group of administrators that takes a case-management approach to work those students through different challenges they confront.”

There is improvement for these students, Rose said. “We manage to retain most of these students through this team approach, even if they’re going through significant crises. And the Threat Assessment Team addresses situations when there is a concern for imminent threat to self or others. What do we do to protect the health and welfare of the community and that student?”

Fiore-Conte spoke of a number of offices that collaborate to support students. “We can’t do this work without strong partnerships,” she said, mentioning the Healthy Campus Initiative that focuses on integrating health and wellness throughout campus, the Opioid Overdose Prevention Program and a partnership with the behavioral health staff at UHS, among others.

In addition, the campus focuses on education, prevention and peer support through a number of programs offered through Health Promotion and Prevention Services, as well as through a Dispute Management and Conflict Resolution program and some student-sponsored support programs to increase mental health literacy and become a healthier community.

Rose also spoke about a number of new initiatives developed over the past year.

“The clergy had a yearning to be more connected to the campus, so we created the Binghamton University Interfaith Council and are in the process of developing third-floor space in the University Union for them to come together as a group and provide programs and services,” Rose said. “We don’t want to miss the opportunity to partner with clergy in support of our students.”

A Health and Wellness Studies first-year class is also now being promoted during orientation, and a program unique to Binghamton has created a strong partnership with the Department of Social Work. “We’re blessed to have a social work program and they have internships,” Rose said. “We are this year embedding 11 social work interns in our residential life communities to follow up with students who have experienced a crisis and we’re hoping to learn a lot in the first year of the program and continue to improve it.

“In addition, B-Connected is a residential life program where we’ve shed a lot of the typical programmatic features and this year are totally focused on community building,” Rose said. “Additional components will be added to B-Connected in the future.”

New training on the Four Ds: Disturbed, Distressed, Disruptive and Dangerous students is also underway for faculty and staff, said Fiore-Conte. “If we can give folks tools on how to identify and respond to students in distress and what resources are available, that will help,” she said.

The University also continue to add to its staff in a variety of ways, Rose said.

“And how do you measure success?” Rose said. “We don’t know, but one measure is that we are keeping our students. Our retention and graduation rates have remained stable during this increase in psychological distress period, and we’re not going to stop trying to address the challenges that we confront.

“Our next steps? Georgetown has incentivized faculty to include a module in courses that speaks to health. We have that within our Healthy Campus Initiative that will launch in November as we accept grant proposals.”

A program to lease unused space to off-campus providers will also launch soon, said Fiore-Conte, who will serve on the SUNY Student Mental Health and Wellness Task Force that is set to begin its work this month.

The University is also investigating online and self-guided platforms and biofeedback software to use technology to help students, she added. Online and self-guided platforms. Using technology that can be helpful to our students. Exploring some of them.

“Our model is comprehensive and we intend to develop more,” Rose said.

Interim Dean of Students Randall Edouard also presented to the council about four proposals moving forward through the Town Gown Advisory Board:

  • North of Main (NoMa) staffing: This proposal aims to increase neighborhood development efforts in the North of Main (NoMa) neighborhood in the city of Binghamton by building capacity in the community. “This is the essence of town-gown relationships.”
  • Shared Bus Stop Improvement Program, approved for partial funding: This project will provide bus shelters at four shared Broome County Transit (BCT) and Off-Campus College Transport (OCCT) bus stops in the city of Binghamton, site work necessary to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), site improvements including concrete pads for the shelters, seating, shelter lighting and the installation of bike racks adjacent to the bus stops. “We’re very excited because we go into the community, working in collaboration with Broome County to make this happen.”
  • IACLEA safety consultant: The International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA) will review the town-gown relationship between Binghamton University and the city of Binghamton to provide recommendations to University and city leadership to make informed decisions on current and future initiatives.
  • ID scanners for bars: The proposed study is an environmental effort to deter underage drinking to establish the feasibility of this approach relative to existing methods. Information and data will be gathered through focus groups and surveys to determine the attitudes/beliefs of bar owners/staff. “It’s simple, let’s do something. We’re about collaborating and doing something about a problem.”

In President Harvey Stenger’s report, he updated the council about activities from late spring and summer. Highlights included the signing of Memoranda of Understanding with universities in India, Kenya and China; moving up in rankings, including as a No. 1 top performer in sustainability research according to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability; receiving a National Science Foundation grant to purchase a first-of-its-kind in the United States piece of equipment to further lithium battery research; and welcoming an outstanding class that brings the University’s total enrollment to 18,000.

Stenger also spoke about a number of gifts made by donors that helped the University raise $19.1 million in gifts and commitments in the past academic year. “This is great progress for our campaign,” he said. “But as for our budget, we’re not out of the woods yet. It’s always a balancing act so the hiring hold is still in place. We’ve kept staffing levels where they should be, but we hope our enrollment is enough so we can grow faculty next year. We’ll know soon.”

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