After a crisis, support worked

Jessie Bekker

When Jennifer Houle disappeared two weeks ago, the University of Minnesota was quick to respond with mental health support resources. The Boynton Mental Health Clinic and University Counseling and Consulting Services increased their presences on campus last week to make students more aware of the counseling support thatâÄôs available for students dealing with grief. And while school and student leaders said the University is well equipped to respond to both emergency events and day-to-day student counseling, the campus community is working to add mental health resources and address studentsâÄô mental health issues before they grow. As the rate in which students are reporting stress increases across the nation, UCCS has seen more students looking for help this year than ever before, Director Glenn Hirsch said. Year round, the University offers walk-in counseling services, said Assistant Director of Boynton Mental Health Clinic Michelle Trotter-Mathison. Boynton requested extra funding from the Student Service Fees Committee this year to hire more counseling staff members over the next two years as part of its goal to decrease wait times. âÄúIncreasing our services at the clinic is one of our top priorities,âÄù Trotter-Mathison said. Minnesota Student Association Vice President John Reichl said his group is also working on a plan to raise awareness of stress prevention. âÄúIt comes down to putting resources in the right place,âÄù Reichl said. The Mental Health Clinic and UCCS met with students impacted by HouleâÄôs death last week for one-on-one sessions to discuss their individual struggles, Trotter-Mathison said. University student Hannah Schaefer said she learned of BoyntonâÄôs and UCCSâÄôs counseling assistance through emails and Facebook posts. The journalism junior knew Houle personally and said in terms of providing mental health resources, the University handled the situation as well as it could have. âÄúI thought that [counseling] was a good idea for people who didnâÄôt have anyone to talk to,âÄù Schaefer said. âÄúItâÄôs really up to an individual to seek help.âÄù MSA is also working on a program that would help students and staff recognize signs that a person is considering suicide and teach them how to intervene, MSA President Joelle Stangler said. âÄúI think we have a lot of peer institutions who definitely do it better,âÄù she said. âÄúBut I would never say that the [University] doesnâÄôt care [or] doesnâÄôt respond with empathy and concern.âÄù And though MSA has ideas for improvements, Reichl said the University responds adequately to crises. The University Community Response Team, a collaboration between various University health- and faith-based groups, offered counseling to students in communities where Houle had a presence, like Carlson School of Management and Pi Beta Phi Sorority, Hirsch said. UCCS frequently takes its efforts of promoting support services and breaking the stigmas surrounding mental health to the classroom, he said. âÄúWe do everything we can to encourage students to seek help when they feel like they need it,âÄù Hirsch said. âÄúThe thing that I wish, from the bottom of my heart, is that no student would be alone with their pain.âÄù Parker Lemke contributed to this report.