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Remember the Mental Health Task Force from last year? Here's what it's been working on

The Clinical and Psychological Services (CAPS) held an event for students to talk about their mental health experiences on Monday, Nov. 12, 2018.

Different committees of the UNC Board of Trustees met Wednesday afternoon at The Carolina Inn to discuss a variety of topics, ranging from property acquisition to fundraising strategies.

During the University Affairs meeting, the Mental Health Task Force —created in March 2018 —  delivered a report following a year of research into mental health problems plaguing students in Chapel Hill and around the country. The task force met 15 times in the past year. 

Research indicates an uptick in symptoms among Chapel Hill students. Therapy appointments at CAPS increased 28 percent in the five-year period between the 2012 and 2016 academic years, and urgent next-day follow-up appointments increased nearly 105 percent in the same period. 

An assessment by the American College Health Association determined 11 percent of UNC undergraduate students in the 2016-17 year reported that they seriously considered suicide. 

With this data in mind, the task force spent a year reviewing existing policies, soliciting perspectives and formulating recommendations to help better serve the student body. They found the complicated, decentralized nature of UNC’s campus, as well as the politically charged environment, to be challenges facing the University in its goal of providing adequate mental health care to students. 

“Part of this issue, in being realistic with our students and faculty and everything else, is we have limited resources,” said Chuck Duckett, chairperson of the University Affairs Committee. 

“We are not a treatment facility,” Duckett said. 

Christi Hurt, the interim vice chancellor for student affairs, said an online portal was set up for students to provide testimonies and draw attention to important issues. 

The task force believes the tense environment on campus — related especially to issues like protests around Confederate monuments  and the impact of sexual assault and misconduct — made some students, especially those of marginalized identities, less comfortable speaking openly to the task force. 

Hurt, along with the task force chairperson Erica Wise, also factored in elements like hazing and substance abuse into their analysis of the mental health situation at Chapel Hill. 

“It’s all tied together,” Hurt said. “None of these things are distinct.”

Hurt and Wise acknowledged that the online modules assigned to the student body are effective in communicating important information, but were unsure about their usefulness beyond that. 

“We can’t rely on them to change students behavior or solve something like a mental health crisis,” Hurt said.

Former Student Body President Savannah Putnam, who advocated strongly for mental health reform as part of her platform, said she was pleased with the work UNC was doing to address a complicated issue. 

“I, along with a few other students, provided real accounts and scenarios where students faced roadblocks in getting the care or services they needed,” Putnam said. “The Mental Health Task Force listened and responded with empathy and compassion.” 

Both the BOT and the task force were adamant that allowing free, candid discussion of these issues on campus will be an instrumental step in reforming the mental health services at UNC.

“There is a stigma that has been talked about many times,” Duckett said. “But not a lot has been done about mental health issues within the University community and any community you’re in.”

The task force determined that a full-time committee on mental health should be established, and the University should centralize a system for student consultations. It also recommended adding counselors to CAPS’ fleet and implementing 24-hour coverage through online assessments and self-care tools for students in need. 

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