New Jersey funds new mental health partnership with its colleges

The State of New Jersey has launched an innovative new partnership designed to provide enhanced mental health services to all students attending 44 colleges and universities in the state.

The partnership, announced this week by Governor Phil Murphy and New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education Dr. Brian Bridges, and described as the first of its kind in the country, involves the engagement of Uwill, a mental health and wellness platform founded in 2020. The program will provide 24/7 access to free virtual services mental health care for students enrolled in one of the eligible institutions that have opted into the program.

All higher education institutions in New Jersey that received any state aid were eligible for the new program and 96% were elected to participate, including institutions such as Rutgers University, Drew University, Farleigh Dickinson University, Monmouth University, Princeton University and many of the communities of State. faculties.

The partnership comes at a time when colleges across the country are identifying students’ mental health needs as one of their most pressing issues. Counseling centers, like most institutions, have seen an increase in their mental health caseloads and are struggling to meet these needs. In a fall 2021 survey conducted by the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education, more than 70% of New Jersey students rated their levels of stress and anxiety as higher or much higher than the previous year, with 40% of students indicating that they were concerned about their mental health in times of a pandemic.

By partnering directly with Uwill, New Jersey becomes the first state in the nation to offer comprehensive mental health services to college students through a statewide system that includes public and private institutions of higher education.

The Uwill partnership provides students with access to a pool of licensed and qualified mental health therapists trained in multicultural approaches to mental health to ensure that the needs of underrepresented students are met. Virtual mental health support will be available from Uwill providers all hours of the day, 365 days a year, at no cost to students or the higher education institution itself.

The program offers three types of student services: one-on-one sessions with a licensed therapist, immediate crisis intervention, and a range of wellness activities such as yoga and mindfulness exercises. A student who requests a meeting with a therapist is usually able to find one within five minutes. If a student is determined to be in a crisis, a connection is usually made within 30 seconds.

Students who need medication are treated through appropriate referrals. Uwill therapists do not prescribe medication. Contacts with therapists are conducted via video, phone, chat and message formats, and are conducted in compliance with HIPAA and FERPA. If a student wants to continue interacting with the same therapist, that wish will be granted. If, however, the student prefers to switch to someone else, that switch is also arranged.

“With the challenges presented in recent years, young people in New Jersey and across the country are facing a mental health crisis like never before. It’s up to us to do everything in our power to provide young people with access to the support they need, something my Administration will continue to prioritize,” she said. Governor Murphy said as part of the announcement. “Making teletherapy services available to countless college students on campuses across our state is a key component of our ongoing efforts to address the mental health needs of our youth and promote safe and inclusive learning environments in New Jersey.”

Financial support for the partnership comes in the form of $10 million in American Rescue Plan funds allocated in New Jersey’s fiscal year 2023 budget to support tele-mental health. This funding complements the state’s previous $16 million investment for institutions of higher education to develop community partnerships that would increase their ability to address students’ mental health needs. These dollars were allocated to eligible institutions based on a two-part formula: 1) a fixed dollar amount awarded to all institutions in an industry based on the industry’s percentage share of the state’s overall student enrollment; and 2) total enrollment of students at the institution.

New Jersey’s program also reflects the fact that Governor Murphy has made youth mental health the focus of his president’s initiative while serving as current president of the National Association of Governors.

Murphy described the need for this initiative as follows: As leaders, one of our most important and sacred responsibilities is to protect the health and well-being of our children, and for too long, the mental health and well-being of our young people has been neglected and the consequences are impossible to miss. . From small towns to big cities, America’s youth mental health crisis is playing out in homes, schools, hospitals and beyond.”

Uwill Founder and CEO Michael London said in the state announcement: “Our mission is to expand mental health care so that all students have access to quality mental health support. We are committed to removing barriers to therapy while complementing existing campus offerings so that every student has the resources and support they need to thrive.”

London told me that Uwill now has contracts with about 150 schools. These contracts range from $25,000 to $700,000 annually, depending on how many of the three service components a college wants Uwill to provide, the duration of those services, and the size of the school. Nationally, Uwill now includes about 1,000 therapists in its physician pool, but that number is likely to grow as more colleges look for ways to supplement their on-campus mental health resources.

“I think we can look back and see mental health as one of the defining issues of higher education of our times, and Governor Murphy’s commitment to addressing the mental health of college students in New Jersey will go down as one of the most notable responses. of the country on this issue. challenge,” said London.

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