Mental health improvements to be discussed in upcoming forum

One in five adults experienced a mental health issue in 2014, while one in 10 young adults suffered major depression. Less than half of adults with diagnosable mental health issues receive treatment, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Student Health Advisory Committee (SHAC) at the University of Miami wants to know what those sorts of figures look like within UM’s student population and how resources for mental health could be used more effectively. The creation of a student mental health coalition similar to the Coalition on Sexual Violence Prevention and Education would do just that, according to SHAC President Austin Eng.

“It would be similar to that, but students would take a bigger role in the leadership, something unique to this coalition,” Eng said. Leaders of student organizations would meet to discuss mental health regarding the student body and potential improvements that could be added on campus. “It would bridge the gap between different student organizations and then bridge the gap between the organizations and the administration.”

In the summer, Eng submitted a proposal for a mental health coalition. “Addressing these complications necessitates the creation of a formal, cross-campus collaboration. One party alone cannot break the barriers surrounding mental health, as the effort must come from a joint effort between students and the university,” he said in his proposal.

Eng’s proposed collaboration would allow for a comprehensive survey of students and student organizations. The SHAC completed a mental health survey last spring, but only 257 students were surveyed. This isn’t a large enough sample to be truly representative of the student body, Eng said. He believes surveying at least 1,000 students would be ideal. The mental health coalition could help to push forward such a survey.

Eng hopes the school will submit itself to the American College Health Assessment, a research survey done by the American College Health Association in an effort to keep and track data pertaining to mental health. Eng believes the survey would allow UM to compare itself to other universities and analyze potential areas of improvement.

Director of the UM Counseling Center René Monteagudo, who has held his position since July, said that both the coalition and a comprehensive survey of mental health on campus are possible.

“The coalition is something we are still deciding how to move forward on,” Monteagudo said. He still needs to acclimate to the center and get a better understanding of the campus environment.

“The tension at any center is accessibility versus treatment; it is a seesaw experience,” he said. “I think once I’m here a little longer – have gone through a full semester – I’ll have a better sense of what the campus needs.”

Monteagudo said the center learned a lot from the student-led mental health forum held last April, hosted by SHAC, Student Government and Miami Mindfulness. The center implemented anonymous online mental health screenings four weeks ago, and a 45-minute online suicide prevention training program as well as an after-hours help line will launch soon. All three initiatives came out of the forum, which will take place again on Nov. 10, from 7-9 p.m.

“I hope to introduce myself to the students, talk about the three initiatives we’ve moved forward and listen to students,” Monteagudo said about the upcoming forum. Monteagudo added that he, Vice President of Student Affairs Patricia Whitely and Dean of Students Ricardo Hall are teaching outreach techniques to faculty in all of the school’s departments so that professors and advisors can be more aware of when a student might need help and be better prepared to point them in the right direction.

The school told Eng the forum could become a regular event as a way to provide outreach for students and collect valuable feedback.

“The event can open someone’s mind to the idea of professional help,” Eng said. “It turned out to be a brainstorming session … the administration has been very helpful and is implementing most of the recommendations from the forum.”