By Mohammad Igbaria
Wait times for students seeking Student Mental Health and Welfare (SHAW) services have passed at least a week in recent years, but SHAW is changing to address this.
The Virtual Care Group is Dean of Health and Wellness Terry Mason’s answer to SHAW’s limited accessibility, as it is able to provide counseling and therapy with an average wait time of 16 minutes or less. and with advisors available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. . Mason said the Virtual Care Group is the best tool for students who need immediate and ongoing mental health services.
When SHAW switched to remote treatment options during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mason began researching a more accessible way to give students a more accessible and quickly available option to address their mental health needs. . Through this research, he found the Virtual Care Group.
Currently, SHAW only has one part-time advisor and two full-time advisers. With the Virtual Care Group, students have access to over 1,000 counselors and 20 doctors. Through this service, students can select the advisor they wish to meet based on their specializations and experiences.
Mason took over as head of SHAW as dean of health and wellness in February 2020, six weeks before the Grinnell College campus closed and students were sent home. After meeting with several individuals and groups of students on campus, Mason set his sights on what he saw as SHAW’s most critical issue: student accessibility to mental health resources.
âThe thing I heard was that, you know, the services provided by SHAW were great,â Mason said. âI mean, people liked what they got if they got it. So one thing that was really, really clear was that the biggest, number one complaint was accessibility. “
When the COVID-19 pandemic began to peak in March 2020, Grinnell College closed its doors and SHAW had to switch to telehealth, its virtual model for addressing the medical and mental health needs of students. However, when online, SHAW counselors are only licensed to provide therapy and mental health assistance to students in Iowa.
So, as students who relied on SHAW’s guidance left Grinnell to return to their hometown and state, those leaving Iowa suddenly found themselves without regular or always available mental health services accessible through the Middle School.
For the limited number of students on campus in the 2020-2021 academic year, SHAW’s online counseling has met their needs.
Charles Yung `24 contacted SHAW Consulting Services in Spring 2 term and said he was able to virtually meet with an advisor in less than a week.
“I personally think they helped me” Yung said. “Just helped organize my mind a bit.” “
But students who weren’t on campus last year and those who moved at the end of spring semesters 1 and 2 found themselves in a less accommodating position.
So one thing that was really, really clear was that the biggest, number one complaint was accessibility. – Terry Mason, Dean of Health and Wellness
In the case of one student, SHAW’s telehealth services were found to be crucial in addressing their mental health needs, and staying on campus and in the state was necessary to continue the counseling they had received after. have started classes in January 2021.
The student, who asked to remain anonymous, said he first contacted SHAW in early February 2021, about a week after arriving on campus. This student was able to start counseling through SHAW within a week of contacting and has continued to counsel all of his time on campus.
âThe person from SHAW was very kind and supportive, so that meant a lot,â said the student. “After going through a certain incident in March, he was particularly supportive of me and that helped things to improve for a few weeks.”
However, when Spring 1 began to draw to a close, the student realized that staying on campus was his only option to continue his mental health treatment.
“I realized after starting therapy that I would lose him quickly because I just [out-of-state], and SHAW is only allowed in Iowa, âthe student said.
They said they had requested to stay on campus for Spring 2, but that request was not approved by the Student Affairs Division as it was filed after the deadline. The student said that despite his SHAW therapist reaching out to DSA and urging that he be allowed to remain on campus to continue therapy, the petition request was still denied.
âSo I was sent home,â the student said.
Since returning home and losing regular access to mental health services from SHAW, the student said he has relied on less frequent counseling options like MDLive.
âIt was very difficult to use because I can only speak with a licensed therapist once every four to six weeks,â the student said. “I don’t know if this happened to someone else, but I kind of wanted to bring it out so that it didn’t happen to more people.”
Sarah Moschenross, vice president of student affairs, said she could not comment on a student’s situation for reasons of confidentiality.
“We would carefully consider a holistic picture of the situation … and, yes, SHAW’s expertise would be strongly taken into account, and their opinion on the matter would be important to the decisions of the committee,” she said of general management of student mental health. health issues during the petition review process.
âThe people who do this work, it’s very emotional work and they do their best. And they have the best interests of the students in mind and during a really tough situation. My team did their best and consulted experts on campus, âshe added.
Hearing about this student’s experience, Mary Ann Schwindt `24, president of the Grinnell College chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said,â Try to find someone who really helps you and find this match. is very important. I know there are so many other counselors out there, but if this is what works for the individual, why would you want to have such a bad effect on them, right? Trying to help them as much as possible is, I think, a priority or a higher responsibility of the College. “
Asked about the students’ experiences, Mason added, âI trust my colleagues at Student Affairs. They went through a very difficult process and made what they thought was the right decision. “
With students fully back on campus, consistent and easily accessible access to mental health services and resources is still an issue. Mason said he thinks he may have solved the problem.
âHere is the reality of the situation,â continued Mason. âWe will never have enough personal advisors available to really handle the demand if everyone wants individual, in-person advice. “
He pointed out that SHAW’s new model focused on what he called the âspectrum of careâ.
âThe spectrum basically goes from one end of having things that students can engage in on their own, without even an advisor, to the other end of which is’ we need an advisor about that, okay, it’s on that level, ‘”Mason said.
SHAW has shifted its focus to treatment options that are not focused on individual counseling. Mason explained that group therapy, the Neolth Stress Management app, and the Virtual Care Group were key to improving the accessibility of SHAW.
“Let’s say a student has a busy schedule, he can’t walk in with a counselor at SHAW, he can’t walk in between, you know, 9:00 am and 4:00 pm, he can do it. at his own pace, âsaid Mason. âIt can be anytime: 8 am, 9 pm, midnight. They wake up at 3 a.m. and are in a crisis, they call the phone number, but it goes straight to Virtual Care Group, and crisis counselors are available for them.
I realized after starting therapy that I would lose it quickly because I just [out-of-state], and SHAW is only allowed in Iowa. – Student
Mason said the service is available to students in all 50 states year-round except June and July. Mason added that the college’s contract with the Virtual Care Group can be extended to cover those months if needed.
âStudents will still have the option of seeing a counselor, right now, at that time,â Mason said. âWe now have more resources for students, both physical and mental health, than we have ever had in the history of SHAW, but we must take advantage of them. “