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Boynton survey gets reworked

Updates to the campus study aim to better understand the mental health of students.

University of Minnesota’s Boynton Health Service released its student health survey on Monday with a new set of questions to better understand students’ mental health needs.

The updated survey includes questions about adverse childhood events, like whether a student was exposed to drugs or alcohol as a child and if his or her parents were divorced or incarcerated. Officials at Boynton plan to use the results to assess new ways to deal with University students’ mental health problems.

Boynton also tweaked some of the survey’s standard questions, like those concerning suicide, depression and stress.

The survey hasn’t changed since the University first created it in 1995, said director of Boynton Health Service Ferd Schlapper, but an upgrade was overdue.

“We need a version 2.0,” he said.

The University will distribute the survey to more than 20 colleges and universities around the state.

The schools use the survey’s results to assess their own students’ behaviors and perceptions regarding their health, Schlapper said.

The University sends the survey to its students every three years, but an increase in research surrounding college-aged people’s mental health prompted officials to release the survey a year early.

Boynton will use the survey to test whether adverse childhood events lead to unhealthy behaviors later in life, Schlapper said.

Prevention science and children’s mental health professor Gerald August said early childhood experiences can influence a student’s ability to function independently in college.

He said if a student experiences adversity during their childhood, left over emotions from that time can surface when they transition into college life.

Dave Golden, director of public health and communications for Boynton, said considering the increased volume of research on young adults’ mental health issues, the survey’s new questions are important because they can better help the school confront students’

 “We really think the information will be useful in terms of [creating] programs and policies addressing mental health on
campus,” he said, although officials haven’t yet discussed what those programs will look like.

August said he thinks colleges should offer services, like screenings, that can determine whether students are in need of mental health support from peer groups and experts.

“Universities need to be proactive in terms of identification for youngsters who might be at risk for mental health problems during their college years,” he said.

Boynton created an organization last summer called de-stress health promotion student group to help connect students dealing with mental health issues with a peer mentor.

The group’s co-coordinator and neuroscience senior Sam Barthelemy said it is currently training students to become peer-educators before counseling services become available in March.

“There’s a huge stigma around talking about mental health, which is really unfortunate,” she said. “[By] allowing that conversation to be started, people will realize there’s support systems.”

 The survey will reach a random sample of more than 44,000 students statewide, including 6,000 University students.

About 30 to 40 percent of students who receive the survey complete it, Golden said. To combat that number’s decrease, participants are entered into a drawing for a gift card.

The survey’s results will be released around October, he said.

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