Trustees say funding limits mental health resources for Eastern students – The Daily Eastern News

Eastern University’s president and vice president for student affairs said the administration was working to get more mental health resources for students, but was struggling to secure the necessary funding.

“Student mental health needs have increased at universities across the country, and the EIU is no exception,” said Eastern University President David Glassman. “We are working diligently to meet the health needs of our students and increase the number of mental health counselors we have on campus as well as several other activities to promote positive mental health.”

In August 2019, Illinois passed the Mental Health Early Action on Campus Act to address mental health gaps in Illinois higher education; thanks to this law, an 11-goal system would be in place in colleges and universities.

These goals seek to permeate mental health services, training and awareness, screening tools, peer groups, and the formulation of strategic partnerships with local mental health services on college campuses.

This training would ensure that non-counselling staff are properly trained to identify and respond to a student with a mental health issue.

Vice President of Student Affairs Anne Flaherty said the administration wants to implement those plans at Eastern, but does not currently have the funds to do so.

After two years, the legislation remains unfunded, leaving the bill dormant.

On January 31, the Campus Appropriations Mental Health Early Action Act received its first reading in the Illinois General Assembly, amending the previous bill.

The new bill will allocate $19 million in fiscal year 2023 to support improved mental health for higher education students.

On April 7, the bill was referred to the Rules Committee of the Illinois General Assembly where it will be considered, and its chances of passing through the full Congress are determined.

This semester, Eastern began making plans for this bill to pass Congress.

Eastern’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Review Group has been meeting weekly since January to discuss the 11 goals and how to implement them on campus.

The group will present its results at the next board meeting on April 22, to show what could happen if Eastern had the resources to implement these goals.

Flaherty said during his time at Eastern there was always a waiting list for the counseling center.

In hopes of reducing the size of the waiting list, the counseling center hopes to win new counselors, according to Flaherty.

The new positions will include an associate director, who will spend half of his time as director and the other half advising students directly, and a new adviser.

LifeLinks, a service in Mattoon, Illinois, has a partnership with Eastern to provide student resources on and off campus at their facilities.

The nonprofit group aims to help people whose mental health has been negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

After this semester, Flaherty doesn’t know if LifeLinks will continue to receive federal funding through the CARES Act to help students in the East.

If the funding disappears, Flaherty says she hopes the new board additions can help fill the void left.

An email sent on April 4 informed faculty of on-campus services to support students and other faculty in the final five weeks before the end of the semester.

Included in this email is an online referral form to submit to the Student Support team, who specialize in assessing, advising and referring students displaying concerning or distressed behavior.

A ‘Student in Distress Handbook’ is also included, providing guidance to staff on how to respond in specific scenarios.

Flaherty said the administration knows students need help, but students aren’t using all the resources available to them.

Flaherty referenced Eastern events like therapy dogs in the Library Booth, mental health pop-up events, and other events as resources that students don’t use.

Robert Le Cates can be reached at 581-2812 or at[email protected]

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