Mental health support expanding at Ivy Tech KokomoA new umbrella of mental health services will soon cover students at Ivy Tech Community College Kokomo, thanks to a grant from the state of Indiana aimed at prevention and awareness and a new partnership with Four County, a community mental health center serving 10 counties in North Central Indiana, designed to provide individual support.
“The importance of making mental health services available for our students really cannot be overstated,” said Laura Hapner, dean of Ivy Tech Kokomo’s Business, Public Affairs & Social Service, and Information Technology schools and a licensed mental health counselor who has been a leader in the effort to expand mental health services in Ivy Tech’s Kokomo Service Area. “We are very pleased to announce initiatives that will allow us to offer professional services ranging from awareness and prevention to counseling and treatment to help our students overcome barriers to success in their personal and academic lives.”
Theresa Murphy, vice chancellor for Student Success for Ivy Tech Kokomo, said the transition to higher education, a very different environment from high school or the workplace, can be very stressful. “Residential colleges have long offered mental health services to help their students deal with these new stresses, ranging from test anxiety to, as we all know, the growing problem of substance abuse,” she said. “Ivy Tech has recognized it may be even more important for community colleges to provide this kind of support.
“We need to make our campus a safe place to be,” she continued, “a place where students can find help in navigating these changes.”
The grant, funded by the state of Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addiction, will provide a total of nearly $180,000 over two years to support the planning, implementation, and evaluation of a substance abuse prevention and mental health promotion program in the Kokomo Service Area, which includes Ivy Tech sites in Kokomo, Logansport, and Peru. The funding will support a full-time mental health professional based on the Kokomo Campus.
“According to the results of the 2018 Indiana College Substance Use Survey, 40 percent of campus student-respondents under the age of 21 reported feeling sadness/hopelessness every day for at least two weeks and/or considered suicide in the past year,” Hapner said. “Having a fulltime mental health professional will allow Ivy Tech Kokomo to provide immediate resources to our students along with connecting them to our community partners for those students in crisis or with long-term care needs.”
Programming supported by the grant will be aimed at promoting the importance of good mental health and preventing substance abuse with the mental health professional facilitating small and medium group sessions, engaging in mental health awareness events, and providing faculty and staff professional development.
“Our goal is to serve about 1,800 students each year, about half of our enrolled student body,” Hapner said. “We expect the programming to be campus wide, impacting faculty and staff as well as students as we all learn more about the issues and how better to respond.”
Similar grants from the Division of Mental Health and Addiction have been awarded to the universities of IUPUI, Notre Dame, Purdue, IU Bloomington, and Ball State.
Murphy said the contract with Four County expands the continuum of services to offer individual support, especially in crisis situations.
“We have been working informally with Four County for several years as we looked for ways to meet student mental health needs,” Murphy said. “With this contract, our on-campus counselor will be able to directly connect students with more difficult, long-term issues to the professionals at Four County for individual therapy and assessment of needs and referral assistance for additional behavioral health needs.” This can include a more intensive level of care or skills training, extended counseling, or psychiatric services.
“Four County is excited about this partnership with Ivy Tech and the ability to serve the students in the Kokomo region,” said Lisa Willis-Gidley, vice president of Operations Southern Region. “Four County provides an array of services from outpatient therapy, psychiatric services, community-based services to crisis assessment, and everything in between. This partnership allows direct access for students addressing their social and emotional needs while working on their academic goals.
“Through Four County’s Student Support Program, students can access services whether they have brief needs to better adjust or long-term mental health needs,” she continued. “Mental health services paired with higher education will create an environment of success for the student and prepare them to transition into the next stage in their lives. Four County will be available on-site and students will have direct access to mental health professionals.”
Murphy said the new services stem from earlier initiatives on the Ivy Tech Kokomo Campus that really highlighted the existing needs.
“Through an agreement with Indiana Wesleyan, this last year we were able to place a master’s level student in social work as an intern on the Kokomo campus. On several occasions, she was able to call on Four County to provide mental health support in crisis situations,” Murphy said. “These experiences offered us a real look at what was needed to support our students.” The internship program, as well as practicums for employees of Four County who are continuing their professional education, will also continue to supplement mental health services on the campus.
Additionally, Murphy is qualified as a facilitator for QPR gatekeeper training, offering a suicide prevention program over the last two years to faculty, staff, and students that follows a three-step process of question, persuade, and refer. As a trainer for Mental Health First Aid, Hapner has trained multiple staff, faculty and students on how to recognize and respond to the warning signs of mental illness and substance use disorders and link people with the appropriate treatment and support.
“We believe this broad approach, bridging campus and community resources in a much more structured and intentional way, will provide great benefits to our campus community,” Murphy said. “We are building a coalition of partners that will allow us to better meet the needs of our students.”