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Could Faculty, Peers Help in College Crisis Intervention?

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In a new survey by the Marie Christie Foundation, only half of college faculty members said they'd be able to recognize if a student was in emotional distress. Fewer than one-third said they could recognize signs of alcoholism or drug abuse. (Adobe Stock)
In a new survey by the Marie Christie Foundation, only half of college faculty members said they'd be able to recognize if a student was in emotional distress. Fewer than one-third said they could recognize signs of alcoholism or drug abuse. (Adobe Stock)
 By Michayla Savitt - Producer, Contact
April 15, 2021

TAMPA, Fla. -- A new survey of a dozen higher-ed schools revealed many faculty members want to be better equipped to help students who are struggling with mental-health issues, especially since the pandemic.

In the survey, 73% of faculty said they want mental-health training, and 61% believe it should be mandatory.

Dr. Kyaien Conner, licensed clinical social worker and Associate Professor of Mental Health Law and Policy at the University of South Florida, noted most faculty members have never been trained to provide appropriate resources for safety planning, and she wants that to change.

"I think that faculty members as well as staff, and all employees who are interacting with college students, should be trained, at least on some of those basics of mental-health first aid," Conner urged. "We're giving that training to students, but faculty aren't getting that training."

Close to half of the people surveyed believe their school should invest more in supporting faculty mental health as well. However, according to Conner, state mental-health funding in Florida is among the lowest in the nation.

A Jed Foundation survey found 63% of students said their emotional well-being is worse now than before COVID-19.

In Florida, limited higher-ed mental-health care has been troubling, Conner contended.

"The services that we have are not really able to meet the rising need that the community is facing," Conner asserted. "So, even though we may have services available, we've got a lot of students who are being put on pretty long waiting lists to get help, when they're in crisis."

One in five college faculty members surveyed said they've had one-on-one discussions with a student about that student's emotional well-being, and one in five also said these situations impact their own mental health.

Conner offered another solution to fill that need: training college-age and community peers to deliver interventions, for people who can't get mental-health services right away.

"They call it task shifting," Conner explained. "It's the idea of giving certain tasks to these community health workers to release the burden on our obviously overburdened healthcare system."

She noted adding these roles into clinical teams significantly enhances the success of their programs and interventions.

In the meantime, emotional crisis hotlines can be reached at 1-800-273-TALK, or by texting START to 741741.

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