U leaders address student mental health needs

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A woman smiles, claps and looks to her right.
University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel applauds the marching band and cheerleaders as they play her off after her inaugural address at the U in Minneapolis in September 2019. At the Board of Regents meeting this week, Gabel will present the findings of an assessment on mental health services.Andy Kosier | MPR News
Evan Frost | MPR News 2019

Addressing student mental health has been a priority for University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel since taking office last summer. This week, she’s unveiling the first step she’s taken toward that initiative, a comprehensive scan of programs and services the university offers to support the mental health and wellness of students on all the campuses.

On Thursday and Friday, Gabel and the Board of Regents will review the report. It shows that while individual parts of the university are making good efforts to meet those needs, there are ways to make those services easier to access.

Student mental health needs are up around the country, and Minnesota is no exception. At the University of Minnesota, the number of diagnosed mental health disorders among students has gone up 25 percent from 2015 to 2018. The number of students seeking help at campus health services has gone up by nearly 40 percent.

Gabel said the university’s scan shows that there are plenty of services available on the different campuses. The question, she said, is how best to deploy them — Are the services easy to find? Are they efficient? And do they contribute to higher levels of student wellness?

Counseling is a cornerstone of the university services, Gabel said, and the trick is to make the most of it.

“The number of counselors we have, we want to make sure we hit the exact right amount, but also where they are physically,” she said, “because we want our students to be able to get to counseling services easily.”

On the Twin Cities campus, the university has begun implementing plans to shift some counselors from the East Bank to the West Bank to make it easier for students to access them. The U is also looking at expanding telehealth and other services to make sure that students can access the help when they need it.