According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 18.1% of the U.S. adult population suffers from an anxiety disorder for at least twelve months, which adds up to a staggering 57.7 million people. As a result, the need to address anxiety disorders and depression has become a constant topic of discussion for universities and campuses across the nation.

In March of 2015, RIT’s administration hired Keeling and Associates to complete an audit of the Institute’s mental health services, which was completed through an open forum with students. During the open forum, many students opened up to express their frustrations with the service, saying how difficult it was to get appointments and even when they did it was only a group session. Recently, however, RIT has made some changes within its mental health service department as a result of these complaints.

After the open forum, Keeling made suggestions for improvements to be made to the service, and although these weren’t mandates, the RIT administration did enact a few in order to better accommodate students.

“There has been an increase in the number of students coming in with pre-existing conditions,” said Dr. Sandra Johnson, Senior Vice President for Student Affairs. Johnson wished to dig deeper into the issue and examine some of the issues that were harming members of the community.

Taking the recommendations into consideration, Johnson tried to create an “integrated health model.” This involved opening up more positions within the organization to facilitate different services and increase efficiency to better serve the RIT community. Johnson created a new position, Associate Vice President for Student Health, Counseling and Wellness, which was filled by Dr. Wendy Gelbard. Gelbard will oversee multiple components of student wellness, which should help make the services more cohesive. Johnson also moved a number of staff around the organization to help every member find their niche. She then brought in Dr. David Reetz to serve as the Director for counseling and psychological services.

One of the major complaints that was shared during the open forum was the lack of clinical staff who would work with students in clinical sessions. Keeling proposed having more clinical staff available when campus attendance was at its highest.

“One of the things I said [that] I wanted to do was to shore up the number of clinical staff," Johnson said. "This way, we have more clinicians when the bulk of our students are here.”

Keeling also recommended the development of a case manager who will help students navigate their own community’s resources.

“This doesn’t mean that we do it for them, but it’s more of a way to help them navigate that area,” Johnson said. Budgeting for this new position was approved and Johnson is currently looking for someone to fill this position.

Keeling also advised administration to reevaluate the group therapy model. Although administration hasn’t made a decision on this yet, Johnson stated that they are using data analytics to determine if the strategy is a viable one to meet student needs.  

“We’re treading in new territory here and that’s something I hope the new director will take a look at,” Johnson said.

As far as future initiatives go, Johnson wishes to increase overall “health literacy” within the student body as a whole. College is often the first time students are exposed to the idea of understanding the world of healthcare at their disposal, including a new initiative to work with parents to help with health literacy programs.

“There may be opportunities for us to streamline and to enhance our strategies,” Johnson said. “If they have concerns, if they have ideas, we’re always open to that.”

She believes opening these new positions and enhancing these initiatives will improve the community’s overall mental health, and is excited to see what the future holds.