For the First Time, UConn’s Mental Health, Student Care Services Go Virtual

Two women talking via videoconference.
UConn is providing a variety of remote services to continue meeting students' mental health needs during the pandemic (Getty Images).

“We’re here and eager to help.”

That’s according to MJ Raleigh, the interim co-leader of UConn’s student Mental Health Services, a part of Student Health and Wellness. Twenty-three providers are working remotely in the University’s first-ever effort to provide remote mental health services for UConn students who are experiencing depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns.

“Our staff went from zero – 100 percent in person – to 100 percent online in two weeks,” says Raleigh. “It was amazing. They just jumped right on and have been phenomenal; they’re doing a great job of getting in there and seeing their students.”

The transition to online-only services means that students already in therapy have been able to continue their sessions, meeting with their providers over the phone or online, and that students who are in need of mental health services – especially in a time that many might be experiencing heightened uncertainties and stressors – are fully able to access those services, even if they’ve never before sought assistance.

“We’ve changed the service delivery, but almost all services are available,” Raleigh says. While students can still visit the fourth floor in the Arjona Building on the Storrs Campus – the building is open – they’re not going to actually sit with a person, she said, and yoga, meditation, and group sessions as well as medication evaluations for new clients have been suspended for the time. There is, however, a private mental health space in Arjona available for student use; students who are still on campus, or who live nearby, can use the computer equipment in that room to connect and meet with their counselor or talk to the on-call staff or contact the front desk to set up their appointments.

“Just call our front desk, say, ‘I’d like to see somebody,” says Raleigh. After an initial triage call, staff will walk through how service delivery has changed and evaluate the student’s service needs, establish the next best step for care, and then assign them to a provider who will reach out through tele-medicine.

“Even if you’ve never come up before, and you’re not even sure this is where you want to be, give us a call and we’ll walk through that,” says Raleigh. “We’ll figure out what is the best thing for you. That’s always our first priority.”

Similarly, UConn’s Student Care Team is working to help students who might be struggling – operating remotely, but at full capacity, and continuing to manage its caseload while taking on new referrals.

“We’re still meeting with all of our students,” says Associate Dean of Students Claudia Arias-Cirinna, who serves as the Director of Student Care and Concern and oversees the work of the Student Care Team. “We are checking in on them; seeing how they’re doing; seeing how the transition from in-class to online is going for them; and seeing how they’re feeling and how they are coping with their depression, anxiety, and stress, and anything else that is going on with them.”

The Student Care Team operates on referrals from faculty, staff, family members, and other students, and follows up when there is a concern that a student might pose a potential threat of harm to themselves or others. While it may be more difficult for faculty to identify students who are struggling now that classes are online, Arias-Cirinna says anything that raises a red flag can be referred to the Student Care Team, which will then follow up to check on the student and see if there are any resources that might be of help.

“There are so many different ways of helping students,” she says. “Now faculty, because they’re going online, won’t be able to see them physically and how they react or don’t react. So anytime they’re concerned, just to put in a referral. We’ll work with them.”

Both Raleigh and Arias-Cirinna say that while some students who struggle with their mental health are more comfortable in their home settings and are thriving in the University’s transition to online learning, for others – particularly those with unhealthy home environments or those grappling with the stress of social distancing and the fast-changing COVID-19 situation – the transition poses many challenges.

But help is available for those who need it.

“There are students who are now emailing faculty or staff and saying, ‘I’m really anxious or stressed, I don’t know how to do this,” Arias-Cirinna says. “Please, put in a Student Care Team referral so that we can get them the support that they need. We can get them set up with services, and we’re still working for them 100 percent. We want to make sure that our faculty, staff, and community understand that.”

To learn more about UConn’s Mental Health Services, visit counseling.uconn.edu. Students can call 860-486-4705 to make an appointment for a tele-mental health visit with a provider.

Faculty, staff, or family members who are concerned for a student’s well-being, or students worried about a peer, can make a referral to the Student Care Team at any time by visiting studentcareteam.uconn.edu.