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Utah College Leaders Focus On Mental Health Needs At First Student Safety Forum

Photo of a woman speaking at the forum.
Rocio Hernandez
University of Utah President Ruth Watkins opens the Student Safety Forum held on Friday at her campus.

Over the last 10 years, more college students nationwide have reported feeling depressed, hopeless and angry, said Dr. David Reetz with the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors. Reetz was the keynote speaker at Utah’s first Student Safety Forum focused on colleges and universities.

On Friday, students and school officials discussed mental health, how it is affecting campuses and what is being done to address the issues. 

“There’s something that happens in higher ed,” Reetz said. “It’s the demands, it’s the pressures, it’s the social expectations that students have to figure out.”

Locally, Utah students are also reporting feeling overwhelmed, exhausted and lonely. 

In a breakout panel, representatives from Utah Valley University, Weber State University and Snow College shared the challenges that their mental health services are facing, like small staffs and salaries and space limitations.

Four panelists sit at a table at the forum.
Credit Rocio Hernandez
(From left) State Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, new University of Utah Chief Safety Officer Marlon Lynch and Dixie State University Police Chief Blair Barfuss discussed campus public safety during a Friday panel moderated by Mica McKinney, Utah State University general counsel.

UVU’s Dean of Students Alexis Palmer said her institution is also concerned about data showing that female students are not using their services. But male students are. 

She said this brings up a number of questions: “Is there perceived bias that they might have toward seeking help like we used to think individuals who identify as male would have? Or if it is just time — in terms of what their time is focused on right now?”

Palmer said UVU is currently working to find answers to and launch a campaign to reach its female students. 

The Utah System of Higher Education (USHE) also announced a new partnership with The Jed Foundation, a nonprofit focused on emotional health and suicide prevention for teens and young adults.

USHE said the foundation has resources to help Utah’s public colleges and universities over the next four years as they build upon existing student mental health, substance misuse, and suicide prevention efforts.

Suicide was the seventh leading cause of death in Utah in 2017, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also found that Utah’s suicide rate was sixth highest in the nation.

Rocio Hernandez covers education and immigration for KUER. Follow her on Twitter @rociohzz

Rocio is coming to KUER after spending most of her life under the blistering Las Vegas sun and later Phoenix. She earned bachelor’s degrees in journalism and Spanish at the University of Nevada, Reno. She did brief stints at The Associated Press, the Las Vegas Review-Journal and Reno Public Radio. She enjoys wandering through life with her husband and their toy poodle.
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