The coronavirus pandemic has cultivated a mental health crisis as the world grips with the emotional distress caused by the virus’ unprecedented and deadly nature.
Students from all across the country, including New York, are dealing with the grief of losing loved ones, financial burdens, fear of contracting COVID-19 or being sent home due to rising infection rates. On Oct. 4, SUNY Chancellor James Malatras announced a comprehensive plan to provide students access to mental health resources.
“With SUNY’s comprehensive Reach Out Mental Health Services Program, students across the entire SUNY system will have access to critical services, be it internal tele-counseling with SUNY medical professionals, an easy to use referral program to other local medical professionals, a system-wide peer-to-peer support network, the campus crisis hotline and crisis prevention training,” Malatras wrote in a press release.
The plan will provide services to all students attending the 64 SUNY campuses across the state. Students will have access to a network of more than 6,000 licensed mental health professionals and providers through a mobile app called Thriving Campus.
According to the Thriving Campus website, all application infrastructure is fully compliant with all HIPAA and FERPA mandates. Remote and on-campus students can reach out to community providers, view profiles to connect with mental health care providers and filter criteria based on expertise or insurance for in-person or tele-health sessions.
In addition to Thriving Campus, the SUNY Student Tele-Counseling Network (STCN) will be expanding its non-out-of-pocket cost tele-counseling services to Binghamton University. The program offers an opportunity for students to connect to medical professionals including physicians, psychologists or nurse practitioners to offer support for a range of health issues.
The SUNY system will also offer the Middle Earth hotline, a peer-to-peer assistance hotline originally established at the University at Albany on a system-wide scale. The hotline is not primarily for crises and will provide callers with trained student peers to help them cope with feelings of loneliness, depression or anxiety.
Amelia Rossi, a junior majoring in integrative neuroscience, is involved in Support, Empathy, Empowerment, Kindness (SEEK), a student-run hotline service for BU students. Rossi emphasized the importance of offering services on a state-wide level.
“I’m really glad to hear [that] SUNY is taking initiative about this and it sounds like a really good resource for students to have access to,” Rossi said. “As a member of SEEK, I understand the importance of mental health and I always love to see new ways that people come together to provide mental health services to a wide range of students especially during a pandemic.”
Malatras also announced the start of a new public awareness campaign called #ReachOutSUNY, which aims to disseminate stigma surrounding mental health and educate students with helpful information on available services. SUNY faculty, staff and students will also have the opportunity to learn more about the Question, Persuade and Refer (QPR) program, a free online crisis training program.
“This has been a particularly difficult time and it has taken a toll, so by expanding available student mental health support services — and shattering the stigma that may be associated with seeking them out — students will be able to get the support they need, be it a long-term treatment for a specific issue, or when they just feel down and need someone to connect with,” Malatras said.
Students like Madison Pellnat, a junior majoring in integrative neuroscience, had no prior knowledge of this plan and noted that more information regarding the plan should be advertised to students.
“Up until this point, I hadn’t heard about this at all,” Pellnat said. “I’m excited to hear about what SUNY has been up to in terms of mental health. However, I hope they make more of an effort to inform students about these services and actually advertise it. Otherwise, it is an open-ended statement that students have no idea is happening.”
The Middle Earth hotline is open 1 p.m. through midnight Monday through Thursday, and operates 24/7 over the weekend, beginning on Fridays at 1 p.m. and closing on Sundays at 11:59 p.m. during the fall and spring semesters. To reach the hotline, call (518) 442-5777. To register for the QPR free online crisis training program, visit http://www.qprtraining.com/setup.php and enter “SUNY” as the organizational code.