After-hours counseling phone line launched

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Ahead of a student-led Mental Health Forum on Tuesday night, the Counseling Center quietly launched an after-hours helpline last week so that students can speak to a counselor when the center is closed.

The center began its after-hours call line last Monday, allowing students to call the counseling center’s main line to speak to a counseling professional any time the center is closed. The center launched its Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) Gatekeeper Training program online along with anonymous online mental health screenings earlier in the semester. All three were suggestions that came out of last spring’s inaugural Mental Health Forum, which featured then-Counseling Center Director Ernesto Escoto, University of Miami Police Department Crime Prevention Officer John Gulla and Director of Housing and Residential Life Chris Hartnett.

The after-hours call service was launched on Monday and announced by Student Government in a Senate Meeting on Wednesday, but the center won’t begin publicizing it until Tuesday so that they can work out any issues before it is used, according to Counseling Center Director René Monteagudo. Students who have gone to the center in person have been told about the services, however. Monteagudo said that the service is run by the staffing company Protocall, which employs credentialed mental health professionals.

Students who call the Counseling Center on weekends or when it’s closed during the week will be given a prompt that redirects them to counselors provided by Protocall. Monteagudo said that in his past experiences with after-hours phone services, it was effective for students dealing with anxiety-producing incidents, such as exams and breakups.

“I had a student use it once because they were really upset that their dog passed away, and so there was an immediate resource for them to talk to someone right away and they didn’t have to come to the Counseling Center or wait for the next available appointment,” Monteagudo said.

Similar to counseling sessions at the center, the call service is free and confidential for students. Calls can last as long as the student wants and the counselor will then provide a report to the Counseling Center, that may follow up with the student for a possible in-person counseling session. Monteagudo said that when the Counseling Center is open (8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays), they still prefer students to come to the center in person.

“I think it makes us a little bit more immediately accessible, especially during times of need. So right now we’re accessible if there’s an emergency or an urgent situation, [students]can just come to the Counseling Center … and we’ve simply extended that to all hours of the day.”

Protocall is a 50-year-old independent staffing company that provides employees with all sorts of companies, including healthcare. Monteagudo said it services many state schools in Florida and more than 100 universities and two million students across the country. Still, the company asked Monteagudo to provide a catalog of resources and contacts specific to the school, so that their counselors could quickly contact someone within the school if necessary.

The after-hours call line is the result of crowdsourced suggestions from last spring’s Mental Health Forum, as are the anonymous online screenings and QPR training, according to Monteagudo. The second edition of the forum will be co-hosted by the Student Health Advisory Committee, Student Government and ‘Canes Care for ‘Canes on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Shalala Student Center Ballroom East.

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