West Michigan Offers Students 24-Hour Virtual Mental Health Counseling Through New Partnership

KALAMAZOO, MI — Western Michigan University will expand its mental health support network in the fall 2022 semester.

The UWill program offers virtual mental health counseling via video, phone or chat message. Service will also be available after 5 p.m. and throughout the weekend.

“There are times when people struggle that aren’t the typical times you might think of,” said Diane Anderson, WMU’s vice president of student affairs. “So having that cadre of people available and accessible at all times, I think, will be very accessible.”

WMU is the third college in Michigan to partner with UWill through the Michigan Association of State Universities (MASU). WMU’s contract with UWill will begin August 15 and is funded by the Empowering Futures Gift, a $500 million donation to the university.

“Michigan State, University of Michigan and Western Michigan University all signed up because we really like what they have to offer,” Anderson said. “We wanted to look at them really seriously and what we found, we liked.”

The need for more robust mental health services is one that students advocated for. The Western Student Association has partnered with the WMU administration and other on-campus groups to host a Mental Health Forum in the spring of 2020.

At the forum, fourth-year resident director Jack Reeves took the opportunity to explain why mental health services are needed, particularly in housing and residence life.

“Ultimately, it’s our responsibility to meet the needs of students,” Reeves said. “And there are times when that involves helping people through mental health crises to the best of our abilities.”

In the 2021-2022 academic year, about 1,450 students sought counseling services from Sindecuse Heath Center, according to university spokeswoman Paula Davis.

Sindecuse employs 12 counselors who see students with backgrounds in social work, counseling and psychology. Students may also seek counseling from the Counseling and Psychological Services Centers of the Department of Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology, although the services rendered by the department are not limited to WMU students.

Reeves said while help from the resident manager can be helpful, it doesn’t compare to what can be provided by professional help.

Anderson pointed out that UWill connects students with a wide range of counselors who can meet students’ mental health and demographic needs.

“A lot of times people want to talk with someone they’re comfortable with and it can be gender-based, it can be race-based, it can be LGBTQ-based, whatever it is. “, said Anderson. “There will be a lot more choice for students, which I think will be good.”

In recent years, striving for more inclusive conversations has been a priority for students, Reeves said, and it’s important to include resources focused on “advocacy and social change.”

“Obviously it’s been such a focus over the last few years as well, where that, combined with elements of isolation and health anxiety, sort of emphasizes the constant stressors “, said Reeves.

Anderson said UWill’s services will be available directly to students through an app that will be available in August. The service will also take into account the “stepped model of care” the university currently uses to assess how to properly address the mental health needs of students.

“There are counselors who are admissions counselors at the counseling center and they will do an assessment with the students to find out what the student needs,” Anderson said. “This student may not need therapy. This student may actually need to go to work with a nutritionist or this student may need to speak with an academic advisor. We don’t necessarily know until we do admission what a student needs.

As the school year approaches, Anderson said the university will launch a marketing campaign to ensure students are aware of the new resource and how to access it.

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