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Temple University will expand mental health services as demand increases

Philadelphia Inquirer - 1/24/2023

Jan. 23—Temple University plans to add $1 million to its mental health services budget, reorganize the delivery of its programs under one office, and add counselors to a new site at its health sciences campus, the school said Monday.

The steps — among recommendations made by a university task force on mental health and wellness formed last spring — come as the demand for services continues to rise, following national trends.

"It's not uncommon for me to be talking to a group of students and one of them brings up seeing a therapist or being on medication," said Gregory N. Mandel, provost. "Others will start to talk, and the majority of them are on medication or seeing a therapist for mental health challenges, and talking to other provosts, that's not unusual."


Mark Denys, who will head the new Health and Well-being Division — incorporating the offices of Student and Employee Health Services, Tuttleman Counseling Services, and the Wellness Resource Center — said Temple soon will launch a survey to get a better handle on how many students have mental health needs.

But he said the school likely is in step with national trends that show it's about half the student population. Needs were rising before the pandemic and the isolation it brought, which only exacerbated the problem, he said.

"It's a significant number of students who are having difficulty right now," said Denys, who has been senior director of health services but will have the new title of associate vice provost for health and well-being. "The demand far exceeds our ability to provide the care at this point."

Temple has about 18 mental health counselors; with the additional $1 million, Mandel said he hopes to hire about 10 more, as well as boost the salaries of current staff to make the university more competitive and help with employee retention.

The money also will help the university add a counseling site at the health sciences campus, which is farther north on Broad Street, where Temple's medical school and dental, pharmacy, and nursing programs are based.

The medical school has been contracting with about a dozen external counselors to help with student mental health needs because the demand is so great, said Melanie Cosby, assistant professor in the Center for Urban Bioethics and director of diversity and inclusion at the medical school. And students, who have demanding academic schedules, often can't take the time to access counseling services on the main campus, she said.

"Having those counselors available really puts a strain on the budget in a way that's not really efficient," said Cosby, co-chair of the task force, made up of students, faculty, and staff. "If we have people who are hired for the university versus essentially paying private practitioners, we probably can spread that."

Assisting students with mental health challenges ultimately will help them academically, too, said Dan Berman, vice provost for undergraduate studies and task force co-chair. He has noticed an increase in students with mental health challenges who have requested course withdrawals. The mental health challenges may not be the reason for the withdrawal, but they could be a contributing factor, he said.

"We really can make progress in helping our students stay in school by sinking more attention and resources into this particular issue," he said.

The university also recently has started a partnership with the Jed Foundation, which helps colleges improve mental health services, including suicide prevention. The foundation is helping Temple with the student survey and will visit the campus in March, Denys said.

Also as part of the new effort, Temple plans to expand wellness programs to employees.

"If our employees aren't happy, that's going to cause a negative cycle," Denys said. "We want our employees to be happy at work. It helps with retention and productivity."

Temple's focus on wellness has been expanding. Last fall, the school canceled classes and held its first "wellness day," encouraging students and staff to use the day to focus on well-being and self-care.

The counseling center also has expanded service, doubling the number of hours students can register for help and allowing students to be seen the same day or within 48 hours, university officials said.

Denys said Temple also wants to nurture a crew of "health ambassadors," employees who are specially trained to help other students and other employees navigate mental health and wellness services.

That was another recommendation that came out of the task force report, which Temple has declined to publicly release, saying it includes "sensitive information."

The school on Monday launched a new website outlining the new structure and services. All mental health and wellness programming will be under the new division rather than spread across three offices. It should lead to better coordination and communication, Mandel said.

"We need to improve our communication strategies so people know what's available," he said.


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