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For college students diagnosed with psychiatric illness, campus life can be overwhelming. Newly diagnosed students are often confused about how to manage their illnesses while at school; those who have been hospitalized worry about keeping up with their studies and negotiating their social lives.
According to Stephanie Pinder-Amaker, PhD, director of McLean’s College Mental Health Program (CMHP), the number of students living on college campuses with serious mental health issues is increasing at a time when resources are diminishing. “The question of how to help these students—many of whom are at great risk—weighs heavily on the minds of educators, mental health professionals, and parents,” she says.
The CMHP, launched with support from an anonymous donor, is aimed at partnering with Massachusetts-area colleges and universities to provide more comprehensive college mental health services. Its goals are twofold: to help students with serious mental health and adjustment issues live more productive lives and to increase their academic success by providing expert, coordinated mental health care.
Pinder-Amaker, a clinical psychologist and former University of Michigan associate dean of students, and her staff are working with campus counseling centers to improve their response to psychiatric emergencies and to provide resources for students who return to school following hospitalization. In 2009, McLean began inviting counseling directors from local colleges for tours, walking them through the hospital experience from admission to discharge. Other CMHP initiatives include developing a resource database designed to provide McLean clinicians with campus contacts and policies, and publishing a student guide to help patients, families, and colleges navigate the hospitalization process.
Another important component of the program is the formation of a student-focused treatment group, “Bridge to Campus.” Working with individuals on McLean’s Short Term Unit, “Bridge to Campus” group leaders offer education and support three times a week to student-patients preparing to return to campus life. With funds from another generous supporter, Pinder-Amaker has hired a college coordinator to further facilitate the transition process. Calling the new position an “important next step in the program’s development,” she is pleased that private donors are showing significant interest in the CMHP.
Robin Cook-Nobles, EdD, director of counseling at Wellesley College, believes McLean is filling an important gap. “McLean offers a wonderful resource when students require a higher level of care than we can offer. We are glad the hospital is partnering with us.” Fisher College counseling director Marcia Winters, LCSW, LMHC, says McLean provides excellent coordination of care and many useful resources, including presentations on the Fisher campus about anxiety and panic disorders. “McLean is the only hospital in the area providing this type of program,” Winters says. “It’s a unique service.”