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UNC System president outlines mental health programs to address student need

UNC System President Peter Hans speaks during the "2023 Behavioral Health Convening" in Chapel Hill on March 21, 2023.
Heidi Pérez-Moreno
UNC System President Peter Hans speaks during the '2023 Behavioral Health Convening' in Chapel Hill, N.C., on March 21, 2023.

UNC System President Peter Hans detailed plans to expand mental health resources for students.

UNC System President Peter Hans outlined several new and recently-launched programs aimed at addressing mental health struggles among college students on Tuesday.

He discussed the plans during the 2023 Behavioral Health Convening in Chapel Hill, which featured hundreds of campus leaders across North Carolina to exchange ideas and best practices in addressing well-being and mental health among students.

“It's important that we try and assess many different approaches to addressing [this crisis],” said Hans.

Some of the plans include offering micro-grants for students to access off-campus care services, increasing training to better equip faculty and staff to identify and respond to at-risk students, and remote psychiatric services in areas with little to no access to mental health services.

Those psychiatric services — called the Shared Telepsychiatry Pilot Program — were launched last September at several UNC System schools, including Fayetteville State University, UNC Pembroke and North Carolina A&T State University. The pilot program focuses on providing neuropsychological testing and medication evaluation to students who live in rural areas, and therefore might not have immediate access to psychiatric and counseling services.

More than 100 students have taken part in the program since its launch. Hans told reporters following his speech Tuesday that the goal is to expand to other UNC System institutions in the near future.

“It’s not just on our campuses — it's a society-wide phenomenon,” Hans said. “We owe it to young people to help them discover a sense of hope and optimism about the future.”

The presentation comes after North Carolina State University — which is part of the system — has already reported five suicides among students since the start of the 2022-23 school year.

That has prompted N.C. State administrators to look into why deaths have been occurring, as well as preventative measures. In addition, UNC-Chapel Hill reported several student deaths nearly two years ago, including a reported suicide and a reported attempt later that month.

Hans said many of the mental health issues seen among college students were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Roughly 47% of students showed significant symptoms of depression or anxiety, according to a 2020 Healthy Minds survey among 33,000 students at 36 colleges, which he noted is a drastic increase from previous years. The results have led to ongoing discussions between UNC System Board of Governors, other UNC leaders, and university experts to outline measures to address mental health needs among students.

Although many of the UNC System’s programs are in their early stages, Hans said there is a large emphasis on increasing communication and awareness among students about mental health resources available on their campuses.

Heidi Pérez-Moreno was a daily news intern with WUNC during the spring 2023 semester. At the time, she was a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill, where she studied journalism.
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