College student mental health is growing concern: enhanced response to get study

Posted at 6 p.m. on Friday, January 22, 2021

UW News Service

MADISON - A collaborative effort will look at ways to enhance campus response to mental health crises at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. University Health Services (UHS) is re-examining its response to mental health crises and other mental health incidents on campus.

In partnership with the UW–Madison Police Department (UWPD), University Housing and the Dean of Students Office, UHS Mental Health Services is working to develop a comprehensive plan for enhanced services. Pointing to collaborative models as a best practice, the primary goal in improved collaboration among these key service providers is to further ensure the well-being and safety of students, de-escalate potentially high-stress situations, and promote a shared commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. UHS Mental Health Services and UWPD have begun discussions aimed at identifying opportunities for mental health care professionals to co-respond to situations that have historically been managed by UWPD alone.

The ability to more consistently involve campus mental health professionals in the initial response would allow for effective assessment and timely access to the appropriate level of care for those experiencing a mental health crisis, university officials said. “We see an opportunity to better serve students by more closely integrating mental health professionals into these situations,” said Sarah Nolan, director of UHS Mental Health Services. “This includes providing students a broader choice of options that ensure their physical safety and emotional well-being.” “Robust and collaborative mental health services not only improve crisis response, in many cases such partnerships help to prevent crises from occurring,” said UWPD Chief Kristen Roman. “Model programs recognize the unique role that police and mental health providers play in responding to various levels of crisis and through combining resources they capitalize on the strengths of each to best serve those in need.”

As part of the collaboration, the four entities are also working to develop plans to ensure that incidents occurring in housing are fielded by mental health professionals when appropriate.


“Mental health is a key part of a student’s well-being and success, and we know the transition of starting college and living away from home can be challenging,” said Jeff Novak, director of University Housing. “Having these new on-campus resources for mental health will be a great way to support our residents, and we’re grateful that University Housing can be a part of this new initiative.” UWPD data shows many student mental health-related incidents occur at residence halls and/or are reported by resident assistants, called "house fellows" at UW–Madison.

Creating an avenue for mental health professionals to respond to these situations when appropriate will be a critical step in ensuring that students get the professional support they need. University Housing operates 21 residence halls across the UW–Madison campus, providing a home to about 8,000 undergraduate students. It also operates three apartment communities serving about 2,000 graduate students, students with families, postdoctoral researchers, academic staff, university staff, and faculty. More details are expected to be shared with the campus later in the spring semester, and students and other stakeholders will be consulted as plans develop.