Letter From President Katsouleas Regarding Task Force on Mental Health and Wellness

Wilbur Cross framed by fall foliage
(Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

To the UConn Community:

One of the most pressing issues in higher education today is student mental health. The need for mental health services among students has gone up throughout the nation in recent years, including here at UConn. Understanding and meeting that need for our students is one of my highest priorities as president.

To that end, in March of this year I named the President’s Task Force on Mental Health and Wellness. This group of faculty, staff, and students was charged with reviewing our current efforts, understanding areas of diminished capacity, and identifying priorities for best practices and expansion of care for our students.

They worked over the last several months, through the pandemic, to complete their assessment and write their report, which is now complete. My thanks to all who served on this important task force for their thoughtful approach and hard work – particularly its chairs, Dean of Students Elly Daugherty and Nina Rovinelli Heller, the Dean of the School of Social Work.

A key point the task force makes – and many of their recommendations reflect this – is that mental health and wellness must be an institution-wide undertaking, not the work of one department. I am accepting each of the task force’s recommendations. The full report can be found here.

It’s important that we get started right away; this is not a report that will remain on a shelf. In fact, we are already moving forward.

For example, Student Health & Wellness (SHaW) has hired an inaugural Director of Health Equity and Access to Care. This position is responsible for developing and implementing a strategy of health equity and culturally competent care to support the mental health and overall well-being of UConn students of color and other minority students to optimize the impact of SHaW services and programs that serve them.

In addition, we are immediately expanding the hours of SHaW’s mental health staff and conducting an immediate review of use of police in medical transports (safety matters, but police may not always be necessary). SHaW-Mental Health has also taken steps to simplify the triage process to increase access to care.

Student Affairs is proceeding in the spring semester with hires in mental health and health promotion, including diversity/inclusive positions and increasing placements for social workers. The “hub” referenced in the report will begin once we have ramped up the necessary staff – likely for fall 2021.

These needs also align with our efforts to build a culture of life-transformative education at UConn, where students have equitable access to the opportunities and resources they need to thrive in their academic experience. The well-being of our community will also be an important aspect in our strategic planning efforts going forward.

Finally, this summer we will convene a review of medical and mental health care at UConn’s regional campuses to determine how to expand and fund access to care and implement recommendations thereafter. This commitment is echoed by the Mental Care Act enacted by Undergraduate Student Government Student Services. It is clear from students, student leadership, and the Task Force that more attention must be paid to providing access to care to our regional students.

My thanks again to all who not only served on the task force, but also the many students who shared their perspectives and experience when it comes to mental health at UConn, all of which were so valuable to the task force for completing their work.

Sincerely,
Tom