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Beyond the News

College academic support hub adds mental health care

University Business, April 2018

Students at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center now receive more than just academic assistance from the office of Student Academic Support 
Services and Inclusion. Besides its traditional tutoring and other academic-related services, the office recently added mental health counseling.

“We thought this was going to be the best way to destigmatize mental health services,” says Lori Gonzalez, the health science center’s vice chancellor of academic, faculty and student affairs.

“We took mental health care out of the hospital and health centers, and made it more accessible. We are breaking down barriers so students can focus on their education.”

Building the program

The University of Tennessee Health Science Center sought input and recommendations from these organizations in planning to offer mental health services via the academic support office:

  • The JED Foundation, a national nonprofit focused on the emotional health of teens and young adults
  • National Behavioral Intervention Team Association, which works with campuses to improve safety and foster intervention
  • National Center for Higher Education Risk Management (NCHERM), which conducted a counseling and psychological services program review

An increasing number of college students come to campus in need of mental health counseling, Gonzalez adds. Students in the University of Tennessee program and at other academic health science institutions face demanding schedules, high tuition and academic competition.

“These are high-stakes academic programs with high costs,” says Gonzalez.

At Tennessee, two mental health counselors now serve as talk therapists, and the academic support office will soon add a case manager to its staff. A psychologist from the campus health care clinic provides medical supervision.

The academic support office plans workshops on preventing suicide, substance abuse and sexual assault, as well as sessions on wellness and resilience. Participants will learn to recognize signs of mental distress in themselves and others.

Students appreciate that the academic support office now offers mental health services, Gonzalez adds. The office was already a go-to destination for other types of support, so it made sense to intertwine education and mental health specialists.