Whitlock appointed to SUNY Student Mental Health and Wellness Task Force

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Janis Whitlock

BCTR researcher Janis Whitlock, the BCTR’s associate director for teaching and training, was appointed to the State University of New York Student Mental Health and Wellness Task Force, a state-wide group will make recommendations on how the system can address the mental health needs of college students.

Research demonstrates that mental health problems are worsening on college campuses. A 2018 national study found that the number of distressed students who seriously considered attempting suicide increased, from 24 percent in 2010-2011 to nearly 36 percent in 2017-2018.

The task force will focus on early interventions and explore existing practices and public health approaches across the nation to address the mental health needs of SUNY students. It will also investigate, develop and recommend strategies for evidence-based models for student support across all 64 SUNY campuses.

“I am exceptionally pleased to be part of such a dynamic and important mission,” Whitlock said. “Pooling our collective understanding of how to most productively respond to intractable mental health challenges on college campuses will enhance awareness and services on New York State’s many college campuses. This results in lives saved and supported.”

The group will also work to identify and apply for external funding to supplement New York State aid. SUNY was recently awarded a portion of the $3.68 million Garrett Lee Smith Grant received by the New York State Office of Mental Health to assist with suicide prevention.

The task force is comprised of system administration staff, campus presidents, counseling center and student affairs staff, and faculty and state and national mental health experts. They will present their findings in a report to the SUNY Board of Trustees by the end of the current academic year.

“We are witnessing an unprecedented surge in mental health issues among young adults in particular, including anxiety, depression, and suicide,” SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson said. “Not only will we expand our resources and safety nets across SUNY, we will also strengthen our early interventions to better ensure we reach our students in need and get them to sources of help. On today, World Mental Health Day, we reaffirm our broad view of what it means to provide student support services for a safe and secure learning environment.”

SUNY’s efforts come on the heels of the first report from the New York State Suicide Prevention Task Force, which was released last April. Governor Andrew M. Cuomo created the task force in 2017 to increase awareness and access to supportive services for groups at risk for suicide, including members of the LGBTQ community, Latinas, and veterans. Recommendations from the report include strengthening public health prevention efforts, integrating suicide prevention in healthcare, timely sharing of data for surveillance and planning, and infusing cultural competence throughout suicide prevention activities.