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Due to ongoing boiler repairs, day and evening classes (and offices) held in some North Campus buildings will continue to be remote today, Tuesday, December 5.

State and Private Funding Give Boost to Salem State University’s Mental Health Services for Students

Salem State University has expanded its wellness and mental health services to add specialized support for students of color and students who identify as LGBTQIA+, thanks to a $134,000 grant from the Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation. The grant arrives alongside a $150,000 Behavioral Mental Health Grant for Public Higher Education Institutions from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that allows the university to further expand the mental health services it offers students.

"With the increase of mental health needs of our students, we needed to prioritize not only increasing our services but making sure they are inclusive and accessible. Students very specifically have been asking for clinicians who share their identities, which we have been able to fulfill with our new multicultural specialist and LGBTQIA+ specialist," said Elizabeth Fell, associate director of counseling and health services.

"These grants have helped increase the timeliness of accessing services beyond our traditional crisis support and psychotherapy within the counseling center by adding the new 24/7 Mental Health Support Line, accessing a self-guided mental health tool, and five free counseling sessions off campus."

Tower Foundation works to strengthen organizations serving children, adolescents and young people with intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, mental health issues and/or substance use disorders. The foundation’s grant allows Salem State to expand its case management services and wellness prevention education with a special focus on supporting students of color and LGBTQIA+ students. The grant funded the hiring last summer of a multicultural specialist case manager, Salem State alumna Denice Villar.

“I really hope with this position to remind individuals to take care of themselves. One of my favorite quotes in general is ‘taking care of yourself is helping the collective,’” Villar said.

The state funding will allow all students to have five free counseling sessions with a therapist off-campus in addition to the counseling services available on-campus. Also funded are increased trainings for students, faculty and staff on mental health and on how to support and refer students for help to prevent substance abuse and suicide. 

“Our students are extremely resilient, capable and amazing, and at the same time deal with a lot of real-life challenges as well as mental health struggles,” said Elisa Castillo, associate dean of students for wellness. “We know that nationwide, transitioning to college is a huge adjustment particularly for the students who experienced the pandemic in high school. It has led to an increase in anxiety, depression and mental health concerns.”

The new services add to the existing support provided under counseling and health services’ stepped care model, which helps students more easily access support and resources immediately when needed. This practice, which is gaining popularity at other colleges and universities, has been evolving at Salem State over the past couple of years.

“Some students are dealing with the lack of basic needs such as food as well as financial issues and mental health struggles,” said Jessica Stevens, assistant director of student wellness and prevention. “These new resources are designed to be comprehensive, meaning to provide different levels of support right when needed.”

  • The resources currently available to students under the stepped care model include:
  • Access to immediate mental health support through the 24-hour hotline, staffed by clinicians who can assess a situation, make sure the student is safe, provide support, and help connect with additional resources. 
  • Same- or next-day visit with staff in the counseling center either in person or remote
  • Brief therapy for students through the counseling center, in person or remote
  • Assistance to off-campus referrals for ongoing care or higher levels of care
  • Connection to a confidential advocate for any student impacted by interpersonal violence. This would not only provide support but, also, help a student understand what options exist and the on- and off-campus processes should a student want to report an assault to authorities. 

“We want to remove barriers, and we also want to meet students where they are,” Castillo said. “We’re able to now offer more than we have ever been able to offer in the history of this institution, and we hope that we will be able to continue to evolve to meet students’ needs.”

Elisa Castillo, Associate Dean of Students for Wellness
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