by Theresa Brown and Andy Main
Several resource centers at the University of Rhode Island are continuing to make improvements to the mental health services offered on campus in order to provide students with the highest quality of treatment possible.
With a staff that is certified to handle a wide array of topics, the University is making strides to create more resources and raise awareness about mental health care on campus.
Dr. Robert Samuels, the director of the Counseling Center, said that all staff at the Counseling Center are trained in areas of mental health care, and they have several specialists trained to address different factors that may affect the mental health of URI students.
“Substance abuse is something that all of our clinicians are trained in terms of working with students, but we actually have a substance abuse specialist on our staff who works with the individual students,” Samuels said.
Samuels also said that the Counseling Center recently hired a clinician who specializes in eating disorders.
“Eating disorders are something that all of our staff is trained in,” Samuels said. “We recently hired someone who has spent approximately 14 years [working] in the eating disorder clinic at Rhode Island Hospital.”
Although the Counseling Center has many resources available, they are not the only department on campus that addresses mental health. Health Services and the Psychological Consultation Center also provide care for students. Both of these centers work in close partnership with the Counseling Center.
According to Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Kathy Collins, over the summer and next fall the preliminary design phase for a new building will begin. This building will house Health Services, the Counseling Center and the Psychological Consultation Center, among other students.
“We’re getting ready to build a new integrated health and Counseling Center,” Collins said. “It’s a long process when we do new buildings, because we want to do it right.”
URI is tentatively trying to open the new building in 2022 or 2023. Collins said the University hopes that community members, both at URI and across the state, will support the idea of a new building.
“We’re going to start the design process here really soon,” Collins said. “Then moving forward into the fall… we’re going to be doing some community meetings to get student input, there’s also opportunities for students to get involved [in the design].”
Funding for the new building will partially come from Health Service’s fund balance. Other sources of funding will come from tuition and grants. The Health Services fee that students pay annually will also slightly increase to accommodate the cost.
The new building will also potentially house more staff members. Recently, some students have expressed concern that there are not enough counsellors at the Counseling Center, or that it is difficult to get an appointment.
However, Samuels said that there is not a Counseling Center in the country that would decline additional clinicians. Additionally, longer wait times at URI are partially due to the quality of care provided at URI and the lack of outside care nearby.
“When we talk about access [to mental healthcare] in this community, we really are a desert,” said Dr. Ellen Reynolds, the director of Health Services. “When you talk to South County Hospital, they do a survey, they are in charge of our region, and they’ll tell you the same thing.”
Because there are not many mental health resources nearby, the University prioritizes more in-depth care, which takes more time. This is what causes longer wait times at URI. This is contrary to universities located in urban settings with more access to mental health care and referrals to easily-accessible locations.
Collins said that the University is constantly looking to improve by creating mental health training for faculty and implementing more ways to for students to get help in person, online and over the phone.
According to Samuels, URI will implement an after-hours phone line for students in immediate need of help to connect with Counseling Center or Health Services staff.
“[There] is going to be an after-hours resource that we haven’t had, where there will be students or staff who are working with students who are having a psychological crisis and they can call and speak with a clinician,” Samuels said.
According to Lindsey Anderson, the director of the Psychological Consultation Center, faculty, staff and administrators now have the option to complete an eight-hour mental health aware course called JED. This will allow for more awareness of the signs of mental illness and resources offered to students that may need them.
“We are training people to recognize the signs and symptoms that mental health concerns are arising,” Anderson said.
Collins, Samuels, Reynolds and Anderson all emphasized the University is constantly working to make students aware of the resources available, and that they take mental health very seriously.
“I am here to say to you that we take this incredibly seriously,” Collins said. “There is not a day that goes by that this is not a part of our day.”