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Mental Health Experts Call For Systematic Change to Improve Student Wellness at HGSE Webinar

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A panel of mental health professionals called on colleges and universities to enact systemic changes aimed at improving student well-being at a Harvard Graduate School of Education webinar Wednesday.

The discussion, moderated by HGSE senior lecturer Francesca B. Purcell, was part of the school’s “Education Now” series focusing on changes to the education system brought about by Covid-19. The panel featured Ernesto R. Escoto, the director of the Counseling and Wellness Center at the University of Florida, and Nicole Green, the executive director of Counseling and Psychological Services at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The panelists discussed a fall 2020 study showing that around 39 percent of college students suffer from depression and that roughly 34 percent struggle with anxiety. Purcell said the findings were some of the “many alarming statistics about the mental health needs of our students.”

Escoto said the University of Florida has created a Consultation Assessment and Referral Team consisting of 10 counselors in an effort to reduce wait times for students seeking mental health care.

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“Every time [the counselors] meet with the students, the way that they triage is by identifying those immediate resources that will use the least amount of time and effort that are still appropriate for that individual,” Escoto said.

Green said UCLA has developed a similar system that seeks to target different forms of counseling towards those in need.

“We also employed a triage model with two clinicians who just triage and put our students in where it’s most appropriate — either emergently, same day with a clinician, or they make them wait,” she said.

Green added that schools should “institutionally adopt” changes to mental health care messaging in order to “reinforce that we are concerned about well-being.”

“I do think there are ways that we do need to subtly embed these messages about sleep, self-care, exercise, taking breaks, mindful minutes,” she said.

Escoto advocated for rules about email communication meant to alleviate student, faculty, and staff stress. He said staff at the University of Florida Counseling and Wellness Center avoid sending emails after 7 p.m. and on weekends.

Green highlighted the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on Black and Latinx students “with regard to loss and grief.” She said her work at UCLA sought to “not pathologize a normal reaction to an extraordinary circumstance.”

“The racialized trauma highlighted so much of what we already knew to be true, but now it was talked about in this ethos,” she said. “The question is, where’s the help?”

—Staff writer Omar Abdel Haq can be reached at omar.abdelhaq@thecrimson.com.

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