Mental health needs rise at Iowa universities

Mental health needs rise at Iowa universities

Flags placed in memory of those affected by suicide on campus in a “Field of Memories” exhibit at Hubbard Park in Iowa City on Sept. 28, 2021. Psychiatry visits to UI Student Health increased 40% between fiscal year 2018 and fiscal year 2022. (The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Although enrollment at the University of Iowa has trended downward in recent years — reducing visits to UI Student Health in many categories — the center has seen more patients in one area: psychiatry.

When total visits to UI Student Health in the most recent fiscal year fell 12% to 25,106 from 28,661 in fiscal year 2021 — and 28,107 in 2019, before COVID-19 – psychiatric visits during this period increased from less than 3,000 to more than 3,400 in fiscal year 2022, which ended on June 30.

Going back to fiscal year 2018, UI Student Health psychological visits increased by 40%, even though the total number of enrollments decreased by 8% during the same period. Meanwhile, having fewer students on campus translated to a 26% drop in “family medicine” visits and a 22% drop in gynecology visits.

The growth in demand for mental health services echoes the concerns of Iowa’s public universities and higher education as a whole – with more than 60% of students nationwide meeting the criteria for at least one mental health issue in the 2020-21 school year, according to a Healthy Minds Study, as reported by the American Psychological Association.

The 2021 National College Health Assessment found nearly three-quarters of students reported moderate or severe psychological distress — a matching finding in a user interface version of the assessment. That UI survey also found that 13% of undergraduates had one mental health issue and 29% had two or more – topped by anxiety at 34% and depression at 27%.

“We are not advisers”

“Just two or three nights ago we got a call where one of the students literally had one leg out the window and wanted to jump, and he wasn’t on the first floor,” said Helen Haire, head from the University of Northern Iowa Police. Board of Regents this week on rising mental health needs.

“We take this very seriously,” she said, describing the mental health training and education officers undergo.

“We’re not advisers, we don’t pretend to be,” Haire said. “But we can do exactly the same thing we do in a physical and medical situation. We can sort, get them to the resource they need at that time. If it’s taking them to the hospital, phoning a counsellor, that’s what we do.

In September, Iowa State University police recorded the highest number of mental health cases in five years, prompting leaders to seek a better response that doesn’t focus on enforcement. the law.

“We have hired six public safety officers who are not sworn, they do not carry weapons,” ISU Police Chief Michael Newton told the regents. “They take calls that really don’t need a police presence.”

This includes students in mental health crisis.

“A trip to the hospital doesn’t have to be done by a police officer,” he said, reporting that ISU police have added a second mental health advocate – so “we don’t ‘don’t have to send a law enforcement officer’.

“Sometimes when we come dressed like I am today, it can heighten those calls for service,” Newton said. “So we are aware of that.”

In response to a question from Regent about what qualifies as a “mental health call,” Newton said it covers a broad spectrum.

“These cases can range from mom and dad haven’t heard from the student in two hours, and they’re freaking out – literally – and we’re going to knock on the door and they’re fine,” he said. “And then they go all the way to attempted suicide cases.”

The three departments want to train officers to handle mental health situations while connecting students to experts on campus — like those at student counseling and health centers.

Student Health Resources

The universities have each expanded their mental health resources – like the new UI Support and Crisis Line, allowing students to have a phone, virtual or text conversation with a support person any time of the day , 365 days a year.

However, psychiatry-specific appointments at UI Student Health may take longer.

“For the University of Iowa, we have a four-week turnaround for elective psychiatric care,” Todd Patterson, associate director of student health operations at IU, told regents when asked about dwell times. waiting for mental health appointments.

In crisis situations, he said, “we have daily nurse visits available until the last minute.”

According to Erin Baldwin, assistant vice president of student health services, Iowa State’s Thielen Student Health Center has three psychiatric providers who handle the thousands of campus mental health visits.

“If you’re looking for psychiatric services in the community, it can take weeks or months to get them,” Baldwin said. “As a rule, we are able to accommodate a student in a week or two at most. And if they are urgently needed, we will get them the same day or the next day.

UNI has a Mental Health Case Manager who works with its Student Counseling and Health Centers to arrange appointments and resources.

“We are developing safety plans with students,” said UNI’s executive director of student health and wellbeing, Shelley O’Connell. “We have an ASQ, which is a ‘suicide questionnaire’. If the student scores positive, we create a safety plan, and the mental health case manager follows up on the safety plans with those students and provides support. »

UNI, reporting a 22% drop in enrollment from 2018 to 2022, saw a corresponding drop in psychiatric visits – although the launch of UNI’s telehealth services in 2020 took some of that, serving 362 students in that first year; 774 students in fiscal year 2021; and 156 students in 2022.

“COVID has done some good things, and one of them is telehealth,” O’Connell said. “We do telehealth and we do psychiatric telehealth, which is very beneficial – especially during the summer months when students can continue to see psychiatric staff at their student health clinic by doing so via telehealth. »

Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.

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