The University of Texas (UT) announced on Tuesday that it will invest $16.5 million over the next 5 years to expand and enhance student mental health, campus safety, and alcohol education resources across all 13 academic and health institutions in its system.
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The allocation was unanimously approved by the UT System Board of Regents during a special meeting this week to fund resources aimed at improving student safety and well-being.
“Student safety and wellness remain a most critical priority for UT institutions, and the Board of Regents’ newest investment will support, educate, and treat students at all UT academic and health institutions throughout their journey toward a degree,” said Chancellor James Milliken.
“Our campuses are grateful for the timing of these new resources that will allow them to expand and enhance the student services determined to be most effective over the past 11 years and during the pandemic.”
In 2011, UT became the first system of higher education in the nation to invest in comprehensive alcohol prevention, education, and recovery programs across its network of campuses. The additional investment in resources came after national studies and internal data revealed a significant increase in diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues affecting students–including stress, anxiety, and depression–over the past decade.
“There’s a larger epidemic of children’s mental health affecting American children,” said Andy Keller, PhD, President and CEO of Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute.
“Before the pandemic, we had record rates of deaths from suicide [among] adolescents and young adults. We have seen continued rises in that population, including groups that had previously not been as susceptible to that, particularly black [youth]. What you’re seeing is that everybody is getting worse and moving towards these bad levels. Then what happened with a pandemic was [that] it accelerated [rates] particularly for adolescent girls and young women.”
The new initiatives include:
- Mental health crisis line
- Expanding clinical mental health services to students via telehealth
- Web-based alcohol education and sexual assault and harassment prevention for students; harassment, safety, and other training for faculty and staff
- Faculty and staff training
- Thrive at UT mobile app
The UT System is already deeply committed to the mental health care and systems of care for children and adolescents statewide through its Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium.
Some of the medical school consortium’s existing work to broaden children and youth mental health care services in Texas school systems aligns with and builds upon the UT System’s new initiatives. Those initiatives include expanding workforce, telehealth services and training, and treatment of at-risk youth.
This commitment to student safety and well-being comes as the state continues to grapple with the aftermath of the shooting at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School in May.
Gov. Greg Abbott approved $105.5 million in statewide funding for school safety and mental health resources on Tuesday in response to the shooting.
“The State of Texas is acting swiftly to ensure our schools are secure and that children, teachers, and families across Texas have the support and resources they need to be safe as we work to prevent future tragedies like the heinous crime committed in Uvalde,” Abbott said in a press statement. “Our communities–urban and rural–are stronger when Texans are safe and healthy, and I thank my partners in the legislature for quickly addressing the need to expand critical mental health and school safety initiatives in the Lone Star State.”