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Mental health and student safety services cited as Regents’ top priority
Numerous studies indicate an increasing number of young adults are experiencing mental health issues that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control, three out of four Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 reported poor mental health related to the uncertainty and isolation the past year has caused.
With an investment of nearly $6 million by the University of Texas System Board of Regents in 2018 and an ongoing commitment to student health and safety, UT institutions have been able to offer students a wide range of mental health and well-being resources as they have navigated the past year.
During a Board meeting on Feb. 25, Regents were updated on the impact the investment in mental health, safety and alcohol-related programs has had on the institutions’ abilities to serve—and save—students.
“It’s easy for the Board of Regents to provide funds for these important programs,” said Board Chairman Kevin P. Eltife. “The hard work is done by everyone involved in implementing these programs, at the campuses and within the UT System. Our number one issue as Regents is the health, safety and wellbeing of our students. These programs are playing a big part in that.”
“No single issue has become more prominent and important than student health and wellbeing,” Chancellor James B. Milliken said. “The pandemic has magnified the need for mental health services for many of our students and, thankfully, the Board of Regents had the foresight to invest in resources and services that UT institutions are using today to provide the critical support needed most.”
In addition to mental health services, the funding from the Board of Regents supports a variety of initiatives that address student safety and security.
Mental health and student safety programs already launched and expanded include campus bystander intervention programs that have helped students and faculty recognize and intervene to prevent unsafe behavior; health education campaigns about the intersection of alcohol use and consent to reduce the incidence of sexual assault; substance abuse prevention and recovery programs; and after-hours crisis counseling programs now available at every UT institution.
Chris Brownson, associate vice president for student affairs and director of the Counseling and Mental Health Center at UT Austin, has coordinated and managed funding of the initiatives on behalf of all UT institutions.
“I am so grateful for the hard work of my colleagues from across the UT System,” Brownson said. “Through these mental health and safety initiatives, they have educated our campus communities about substance abuse and interpersonal violence prevention, provided critical resources and support for students in recovery, taught students how to actively intervene to prevent harm, and assisted students suffering negative consequences from drinking.
“We know the investment in these programs have saved lives,” Brownson added. “Over the past five years, our mental health crisis lines, which operate at every UT campus, have fielded more than 19,000 phone calls, 3,800 of which were urgent interventions and over 240 emergent calls, many of which resulted in truly life-saving interventions.”
Through financial stewardship of the Board’s investment, funding will be extended beyond the initial allocation cycle.
Wanda Mercer, UT System’s associate vice chancellor for student affairs, said the initiatives are foundational to student success.
“With the Board’s support, all of the UT institutions worked together to develop solutions with campus-specific features and branding to better serve students,” Mercer said. “Sharing resources and expertise resulted in all institutions being able to provide critical counseling and training services to help students stay safe and well.”
About The University of Texas System
For more than 130 years, The University of Texas System has been committed to improving the lives of Texans and people all over the world through education, research and health care. With 14 institutions, an enrollment of more than 240,000 students and an operating budget of $21.7 billion (FY 2021), the UT System is one of the largest public university systems in the United States. UT institutions produce more than 64,000 graduates annually and award more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees and more than half of its medical degrees. Collectively, UT-owned and affiliated hospitals and clinics accounted for more than 9.2 million outpatient visits and 1.8 million hospital days last year. UT institutions also are among the most innovative in the world, collectively ranking No. 3 for most U.S. patents granted in 2019, and the UT System is No. 1 in Texas and No. 2 in the nation in federal research expenditures. The UT System also is one of the largest employers in Texas, with more than 21,000 faculty – including Nobel laureates and members of the National Academies – and more than 85,000 health care professionals, researchers and support staff.