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Area SUNY colleges receive mental health funds

The Daily Star - 2/16/2024

Feb. 16—Three area State University of New York campuses will receive funding from the state to increase their mental health services and support for students, faculty and staff.

SUNY Chancellor John King Jr. visited SUNY Delhi Feb. 6, and said the $10 million funding was a line item in the state budget for SUNY campuses to use to bolster mental health services. He said another $10 million would be earmarked toward research at campuses and $10 million for the internship program he introduced at SUNY Delhi last week. Last year, the SUNY system received the largest amount funding in more than 20 years.

Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the funding in a media release Feb. 14. This investment will expand services at 28 campuses, support more than 200,000 students, and build on its Statewide Tele-Psychiatry Network and new tele-counseling option for community colleges. SUNY's Student Tele-Psychiatry Network has grown from four campuses utilizing the service in 2018 to 56 campuses as of spring 2024. The entire network is run out of SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, and utilizes psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, case managers and more. It provides psychiatric services and medication management to SUNY students.

At least 25 campuses will hire, retain, or extend the contracts of mental health staff, including psychologists, social workers, psychiatric nurse practitioners, and other clinical staff, the release said. Fourteen campuses will leverage telehealth contracts to increase capacity and meet crisis and off-hours student needs. Telehealth contracts will also allow for several campuses to connect students to a more diverse clinical staff, both in terms of specialties and demographics.

SUNY Oneonta, SUNY Delhi and SUNY Cobleskill each will receive $250,000 to set up programs to help students.

"We are grateful for New York state's investment to support student mental health on our campus," Tracy Johnson, vice president of student affairs at SUNY Oneonta, said in a statement. "Addressing student mental health is critical to our students' ability to thrive and live purposely. At SUNY Oneonta we strive to provide all our students with the support they need from entry through graduation."

The college will use the money hire more counseling center staff with the addition of four mental health counselors, one peer educator and more programming and training to benefit its students.

"With this investment, SUNY Oneonta will expand and enhance its holistic approach to student care and wellbeing by expanding our mental health staff from seven to 11 professionals on campus," Johnson said. "The additional funding will also allow us to offer peer mentoring, evening education programs and maintain a robust Office of Student Care and Wellbeing that focuses on crisis management and basic needs, such as food and housing insecurity."

Riikka Olson, director of marketing and communications at SUNY Delhi, said the college will use its additional funding to:

—Hire two additional full-time senior mental health counselors to provide individual and group counseling, crisis intervention, assessment, outreach and programming to the campus community.

—Provide our counseling staff training in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, a psychotherapy that alleviates emotional distress caused by traumatic life experiences.

—Invest in BetterMynd, an online therapy service that offers students immediate 24/7 access to teletherapy for free.

—Launch Sonic Connections, an arts-based mental wellness program that uses music and positive psychology to equip students with life and leadership skills.

—Enhance our peer support services by providing certified training programs for peer educators and creating peer education programming on campus.

—Host a Mental Health Summit to faculty, staff, and students on campus to bring awareness and reduce the stigma around topics related to mental health.

At SUNY Cobleskill, the money will be dispersed among various departments on campus for programs and purchases related to mental health support for students, Jason Politi, director of communications, said. According to the fact sheet given with the media release, SUNY Cobleskill will use its funding to hire a 12-month mental health counselor, allowing assistance to summer Educational Opportunity Program students and those on campus over the summer. According to the college's website, the Educational Opportunity Program is designed to provide access, academic, social and financial support to state residents who show promise for mastering college-level work, but may not otherwise be considered for general admission. Students seeking program membership must qualify academically and economically to receive serious consideration. First-time fall semester students are required to attend the EOP Summer Program which is provided through special state funding.

SUNY Cobleskill will also provide counselors with diverse backgrounds/experience who will also offer therapy outside of typical business hours, the fact sheet said.

Vicky Klukkert, staff writer, can be reached at vklukkert@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7221.

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