By Kyle Turk
EAST LANSING, Mich. — New initiatives across the Michigan State University campus have sparked discussion of mental health, a fast-rising talking point across the United States and worldwide.
Since the start of the 2018-19 school year, MSU has launched a handful of new outlets for mental health research and services. For example, in September, the university added a satellite counseling service at the MSU Union, and with it comes plenty of opportunities for students to seek the resources they need, according to students across campus.
Last summer, MSU’s Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) had a large hand in facilitating a new coalition that focuses student groups on working together to raising awareness of mental health issues. Students say they’re encouraged by the changes at MSU over the past year.
“There are so many ways for me to talk to professionals now,” junior medical student Chris Dudek said. “If I need to, there’s an app, there’s counselors in the dorms. I think it’s a lot better for everyone on campus if there are more ways to get in touch.”
The recent expansion of services on campus reflects the relatively large availability of mental health professionals in the U.S. compared to much of the rest of the world, according to statistics cited by the Congressional Research Service.
Recent studies from the World Health Organization (WHO) recognize North America as the region with the second-highest density of mental health workers, with 10.9 workers for every 100,000 people. Europe outpaces the rest of the world by a large margin with 50 workers per 100,000 people, the WHO reports said.
As wide-scale discussion about mental health has increased in recent years, MSU’s response has been a greater focus on improving existing facilities and services. It’s been a huge step forward in the eyes of students like Dudek who work with the resources available.
A number of students have been involved with Mental Health Awareness Week since 2016. Students could participate throughout the week in movie nights or listen to mental health speakers last November.
“I was more surprised at how much I learned,” junior supply chain management student Alex Cavalier said. “They definitely made it about the education of [mental health] more than anything else. I thought it was going to be more stress-relieving things but I actually learned something about how to approach my own mental health.”
MSU’s commitment to its CAPS reflects a bigger trend across American campuses. A study reported on by Reuters last November found that mental health diagnoses had risen between 2009 and 2015.
The WHO study found that governments in the North, South and Central American region spent about $12 per capita on mental health expenditures. With a higher focus at the national level, national spending has trickled down to the U.S.’s school systems – part of which has allowed MSU to create heightened awareness for its mental health programs.
In areas such as Africa and Southeast Asia, some residents pay for mental health services out of pocket. In contrast, the WHO survey found that 94 percent of countries across the Americas have an option for residents to have those services fully covered by insurance or have a 20 percent maximum for of out-of-pocket costs. It should be noted that even though the countries have it, it may not be available to every resident without premiums.
With MSU, this means that on-campus organizations such as ASMSU have set their focus on allocating money in their budget to promote mental health awareness.
“We’ve really benefited from being able to get multiple groups in a room together,” sophomore communications student Sam Britten said. Britten is a volunteer who has been focused on improving ASMSU’s ability to work with CAPS and MSU’s newly-created Office of Health Affairs. “Just from a logistics standpoint as much as anything else. Now, if we have something pressing we want to meet about, we can do it without going through some long process.”
Dudek said the effect of that work among student groups hasn’t been lost on those around campus. With new places where students can seek the help they need, he said he believes that MSU is taking steps in the right direction towards making campus a place where anyone can get mental health care.
“It’s a major, major benefit,” Dudek said. “Even for the students that ordinarily wouldn’t use all the services available here, it really makes a difference. Having that sense of security sometimes is the difference in making sure someone can help themselves and get the care they need.”