Student leaders call for system-wide change of mental health services

A proposed mental health plan would bring in experts to review and critique the University’s existing mental health services.

Kait Ecker

Student government representatives will bring a report to the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents requesting action for better student mental health services to the board’s March 8 meeting.

The proposed plan includes bringing in experts to review and critique the University’s existing mental health services and asks University administration to address any problems an audit may reveal. The plan also requests the board assesses student mental health services every five years.

“Right now, we know that students are not completing degrees. Students are not being as productive as they could be academically and students are really struggling because of problems with mental health,” said James Pathoulas, the Professional Student Government’s representative to the board. “The biggest threat to our mission at this University is student mental health.”

Pathoulas collaborated with other student board representatives and PSG members to develop the three-pronged approach that addresses student mental health.

“The University has a responsibility to ensure the safety of their students,” said Pathoulas. “That is a responsibility of our school, and mental health is a part of that picture.”

In the past, representatives have successfully asked the board for more counselors. After the University added a substantial number of counselors to both Boynton’s mental health clinic and Student Counseling Services, the number of mental health professionals is now within guidelines, Pathoulas said.

“It’s not necessarily that we need more counselors, but we need to think about how we’re delivering care,” Pathoulas said.

Student representatives have presented the issue of mental health to the board for the past two years, but it’s different this year, Pathoulas said. The climate around mental health stigma has shifted and the plan seeks a system-wide change. In addition, more people, like President Eric Kaler, President-Designate Joan Gabel, students, faculty, administration and the board want to take action on mental health. 

“Mental health is not the same for everyone. It’s really a lived experience,” Pathoulas said.

The core of the plan is trying to address the difficult task of creating a system that serves everyone and their unique needs, he added.

Scott Lanyon, vice provost and dean of graduate education, said he sees the importance of mental health, especially in graduate students.

“I think where the graduate school can really play an important role is [in] trying to reduce the number of students who ever get to that point [of having a serious mental health problem]. It’s more preventative,” Lanyon said.

Poor communication between students and advisers can be a major source of stress and can lead to more serious problems, like depression, Lanyon said.

“We have information about whether or not they’re aware of resources on campus they can use, but we failed to ask whether or not they were getting help for anxiety or depression and we’re hoping to get a little more information,” said Daniel Jones-White, senior analyst in the Office of Institutional Research.

If the proposal made by Pathoulas and collaborators comes to fruition, data from gradSERU, SERU and Boynton’s College Student Health Survey would be helpful to the board in making their five year reviews of mental health services.

“Students are at the very core of our mission at this University,” said Pathoulas. “No students, no mission.”