GW launches mental health CARE system

The University launched an online referral system this semester designed to catch and support students experiencing crises.

The CARE Network allows faculty, staff and students to electronically report a student for medical, financial, academic or mental health concerns that could then prompt a coordinated and campus-wide team to offer relevant support services.

Helen Cannaday Saulny, associate vice president and dean of student academic success, said the program will “connect the dots” between struggling students and campus resources they may not be familiar with.

“We want students to know we care about them, and we want students to care about each other,” Saulny said. “We’ve implemented a system where you can share with us confidentially about students that you think might feel just need any kind of help.”

Students who are identified by multiple sources as at-risk will be assigned a case manager who works with them one-on-one, Saulny said. She declined to elaborate on the University’s protocol for when a student does not respond to e-mails or calls from the employee assigned to their case.

The new program comes as a January 2011 survey by the University of California, Los Angeles found that mental health issues among college freshmen were at their highest level in 25 years.

Questions on the online referral form include the type of concern, time period, location and other people involved. Access to information provided by those who refer students for help is “extremely limited and reserved to a select few,” Saulny said. She declined to say if the information could lead to disciplinary action.

Student employees, like house staff, “may be consulted as part of the intervention strategy should we deem it helpful and appropriate,” Saulny said.

Some universities that use the system provider the network runs on, called Advocate, offer an additional portal allowing resident assistants to sign in and report incidents or issues after their required rounds of residence halls. Saulny declined to say if the CARE network could see an expanded website with the feature in the future.

Saulny and Senior Assistant Dean Rebecca Sawyer coordinate student cases among trained staff from UCC, Academic Advising, the Center for Student Engagement and Student Health Services. Saulny said the team meets regularly “to review, discuss and provide appropriate resources to students of concern.”

When developing the system, the University looked to similar models at American, Cornell and Duke Universities, which Saulny said began cropping up after the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech.

“A lot of schools post-Virginia Tech said, ‘How can we identify students who may have mental health issues before it gets up to a threat level?’ ” she said.

GW launched a pilot program last year, allowing about 120 students to test the model, most of whom received tutoring and academic advising, Saulny said. She declined to say how the pilot program was modified to become the current system.

She said student reviews of last year’s trial run were positive, adding, “no one said they didn’t want us to contact them.”

Saulny declined to provide an estimate of how many students have used the program so far this semester.

Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.