NMU begins mental health assessment

MARQUETTE — Northern Michigan University interim President Kerri Schuiling announced that the mental health assessment of campus has begun.

The timeliness of this assessment could be fortuitous.

“I am pleased to let you know that a comprehensive review of our campus’ mental health services commences this week,” Schuiling wrote in a recent letter to students, faculty and staff.

After considering various consultants and agencies, she asked Jim Haveman, a former trustee with a background in mental health leadership, to lead the process.

She said Haveman served as the Michigan Department of Community Health director from 1996 to 2003 and was reappointed to the position again in 2012, retiring from the position in 2014. He also served as the director of the Michigan Department of Mental Health from 1991 to 1996 and is the past executive director of the Kent County Community Mental Health Program. Haveman also holds both a baccalaureate and master’s degree in social work.

“Jim, as many of you know, is a former NMU trustee,” Schuiling said. “Trustees are selected in part because of their expertise. Not only does Jim have a deep and comprehensive experience in health and wellness, he has worked extensively with universities. In short: He understands the culture and needs of higher education.

“It was with Jim’s help and support we engaged with JED Campus, which guided us through revising and developing program changes and policy development dedicated to bettering our mental health offerings.”

Schuiling said Haveman has already begun his work, collecting NMU’s policies and procedures, and reaching out to interview students, staff and faculty about NMU’s current mental health programs and services. Haveman was to be on campus before graduation, and already set appointments for interviews and meetings.

Schuiling said any student who wants to be interviewed by Haveman and offer their insights and perspectives should contact her or Chris Greer, dean of students and interim director of NMU’s counseling center.

“I also want everyone to know that if you prefer not to reveal your name, Jim will maintain confidentiality,” Schuiling said. “He is focusing on helping us improve our services.”

His work will culminate in August with a formal report that includes recommendations and comparison of NMU programs and processes with current best practices.

Haveman, who is based in Grand Rapids, told The Mining Journal that he will look at how other universities are handling mental health issues.

Month by month, he will share thoughts with Schuiling and Greer, he said, and develop a report in August.

Haveman said a recent student death, which got visibility on campus, raised the mental health issue, although a new assessment is needed anyway.

He also supports the planned new unit that will have both counseling services and the health clinic in the same spot.

“I think that’s a good move,” Haveman said. “That’s what I’ve been pushing for three years, and it’s finally beginning to happen.”

In an interview with The Mining Journal, Schuiling said that nationally, mental health is coming more to the forefront.

“We’re trying to get rid of the stigma of individuals who have mental health issues and need care and support for that,” she said. “So, I think it is certainly extremely important, and it’s important for all of us, to recognize how important it is.”

Schuiling said NMU has performed several mental health assessments and implemented them, but it’s time for another.

“The pandemic has had an effect on all of us, even if we think it did or not,” she said. “It has affected our mental health in various ways.”

Schuiling wants to put together a task force composed of staff, faculty and students to look at recommendations, priorities and how to implement them.

This task force, to her, is the “big first step,” with the next step actually implementing the recommendations.

“There’s always room for improvement,” Schuiling said. “I don’t care how good you are.”

Greer told The Mining Journal that she has been talking with many students about mental health issues, with feedback including the need for after-hours telehealth.

NMU has that service, she said, with only a three-day-long waiting list.

“There’s just a lot of misperceptions about what we have,” Greer said. “I’m not saying that we can’t be doing things better.”

That’s why Haveman’s assessment is planned, she said.

However, Greer acknowledged more “advertising” of NMU’s mental health services is warranted.

“We obviously have not hit upon the correct way of getting the information out,” she said.

Haveman also wondered if NMU needs to promote those services better.

“Do we have to market better? Do we need better visibility, 24/7 coverage? How do we handle emergencies?” he said. “So, I’ll be looking at all that.”

Students concerned

NMU on April 7 temporarily suspended junior Dominick Dotson for allegedly violating university policy by sending out a survey to students through Google Forms, following the recent student death, that asked how NMU could improve how it handles mental health issues.

In a letter sent to Dotson, Greer stated that “due to the seriousness of alleged Student Code violations” on April 6, she was temporarily suspending him from NMU until all charges are adjudicated. His eligibility to return to NMU in the future would not be considered until all Student Code issues are resolved, she wrote.

Greer noted in the letter that with the semester ending soon, Dotson could remain in his campus apartment and attend Winter 2022 classes until the Student Code charges are adjudicated.

Dotson told The Mining Journal he could not elaborate on the situation because the issue is ongoing.

Greer told The Mining Journal that when NMU presents charges in a matter, the student has the option of either accepting or denying responsibility.

If the student accepts responsibility, a conduct administrator imposes a penalty. If a student denies responsibility, the case goes to a hearing board.

If a student opts for a hearing in case that comes up at this time of the year, Greer said it’s possible the hearing could be in September.

Schuiling said in a recent campus-wide letter that she has received questions about the process for distributing campus-wide surveys using student NMU email addresses.

Sending mass emails to students on campus using students’ NMU email address requires approval though one of these entities: Associated Students of NMU, the Dean of Students Office or the President’s Office. So, if someone plans to send a survey to the entire NMU student community, permission is required.

To obtain that permission, a critical step is submitting the survey and related documents to the university’s Institutional Review Board, said Schuiling, who noted that according to a member of the IRB committee, this is not an arbitrary policy but a requirement of the federal government.

“Not complying with this requirement could have significant negative impacts on the university’s ability to continue to do research,” she said in a letter to the campus community. “The federal policies focus primarily on informed consent for those participating in the survey, procedures for collecting the information (data), how it will be stored, what will be done with the data, how long it will be held and many other safety-related factors.”

Schuiling pointed out that not all surveys will need to have what is called a “full” review, which can take a longer period of time, but may be exempt from review or have an expedited review.

“Our IRB is very timely in its review of survey requests so someone can learn quickly whether their survey needs some editing or if it can be distributed as written,” she said. “As a final note, I want to explain to everyone that all surveys distributed on Northern’s campus are required to adhere to ethical standards and use ‘informed consent,’ meaning the survey respondent knows specifically who is collecting the information and how it will be used.”

The bottom line, according to Schuiling, is that individuals must have IRB approval before distributing a survey at NMU, stressing that this requirement is standard for anyone doing research, not just at NMU.

However, NMU students on April 8 held a protest to support Dotson.

Other students are concerned about how mental illness is handled at NMU.

Ryann Burke, who is majoring in social work and minoring in human behavior and criminal justice at NMU, said she decided to become involved after hearing through students instead of through the university itself that a student on campus died by suicide.

“At first I was distraught and emotional,” she said in an email. “I didn’t expect this to affect me as much as it has, but when these tragedies happen at universities other students can’t help but be affected, especially those who are also experiencing mental illness.”

Burke said she immediately wrote a letter to the president airing her concerns for how the university was handling this situation and its overall lack of trauma informed care/access to necessary resources when it came to their mental health services.

“I was upset and didn’t understand why I was having to use what I’ve learned within my program against the very university that was teaching it to me,” Burke said. “After some back and forth I was able to schedule an appointment to meet with the president and dean of students to discuss my concerns in person. I then did upwards of 20 hours of research on mental health services within universities and their importance for student success and wellness.

“Within my research, I was able to find other sorts of resources and ways universities have used to confront the national mental health crisis that is happening at universities nationwide. I’m hoping to work with NMU to give a social work perspective on how to better serve their students.”

NMU has a student chapter of Active Minds, a national organization supporting mental health awareness and education that has a presence on more than 600 campuses, it said in a news release.

The Active Minds website includes the following statistics: Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among young adults; 67% of young people tell a friend they are feeling suicidal before telling anyone else; 39% of college students experience a significant mental health issue; 67% of people 18 to 24 with anxiety or depression don’t seek treatment; one in five adults has a diagnosable mental illness; and 50% of mental health issues begin by age 14, while 75% begin by age 24. Many of these issues have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

NMU’s on-campus Counseling and Consultation Services, staffed by professional psychologists and counselors, is available free to students to help them participate more successfully in the living and learning community. The university plans to build a new comprehensive health care facility that will merge mind and body by housing both Counseling and Consultation Services and the NMU Health Center — something that Haveman advocates.

Other positive strides at NMU include a partnership with Health Advocate to offer students free online counseling services outside of traditional business hours; Therapy Assistance Online; Dial HELP live counselors available to talk or text at any time of day; and student-driven behavioral and mental health awareness campaigns, such as the Active Minds chapter’s “Send Silence Packing” event.

More NMU resources are available at https://nmu.edu/counselingandconsultation/crisis-resources.

Schuiling told The Mining Journal she understands students’ concerns following the student death.

“I also feel like the concern about mental health that came forward after that came from a good place,” she said. “It came from students who are caring and concerned, and concerned for one another’s health as well as their own.”


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