Nationally, colleges and universities are expanding and strengthening the mental health services they provide to students, says Houston Dougharty, vice-president for student affairs. Grinnell College is also implementing this practice through a number of changes and additions to mental health staff and programming.
Throughout 2008, a committee of students, staff, faculty, and Poweshiek County Mental Health Center (PCMHC) representatives met to discuss the state of mental health services on campus. The conversation revolved around one central question: is Grinnell College currently addressing the needs of its students by providing adequate mental health services?
The principal recommendation to emerge was the desire for Grinnell to provide its own mental health services for students on campus. Dougharty worked to implement the recommendations of the committee, and he says plans are underway to expand the services provided by Health Services to include on-campus counseling. The addition of at least two full-time College-employed psychologists will allow students the option of seeing psychologists on campus.
Joyce Stern ’91, dean for student academic support and advising, anticipates the new counselors will quickly become part of the fabric of Grinnell. “The counselors will be especially attuned to the stresses, culture, and happenings on campus,” she says. “As active members of the campus, they will be able to provide more outreach and consultation for faculty, staff, students, and members of the community.” The College also plans to retain its close ties to PCMHC.
Stern says a new organizational structure will merge health and counseling at the reformatted Student Health and Counseling Services. Two new leadership positions have been created: 1) lead psychologist and director of student health and counseling services, and 2) staff psychologist and training coordinator. Student Health and Counseling Services will be organized under the guidance of the lead psychologist and director, who along with student counseling responsibilities will coordinate all issues related to both student health and counseling. The staff psychologist, in addition to providing counseling, will focus on mental health issues and report to the lead psychologist and director.
Deb Shill, registered nurse at Health Services, will be promoted to lead nurse and student health services coordinator, Stern says. Starting July 1, she will also report to the lead psychologist and director. Finalists for the lead psychologist position will interview on campus soon. Candidates will have the opportunity to meet with Grinnell faculty, staff, and students. The new structure will be put into effect for the beginning of the 2010–11 academic year.
Despite the changes, Shill says, some things will remain the same at the Health Center: friendly staff, free condoms, and a welcoming atmosphere including gossipy magazines, a well-dressed skeleton in fetching Grinnell gear, and a caregiver away from home. “My goal from this promotion is to strive to keep the Health Center as warm, inviting, and comfortable as it always has been,” Shill says.
As Grinnell welcomes several new health care providers, the College prepares to say goodbye to Health Services Director Karen Cochran, who will be retiring soon. Cochran has helped countless Grinnell students battle the seemingly never-ending cold and flu season, and her departure will be deeply felt, Shill says. “Karen is a wonderful person first, and a great nurse second. She is a role model and she will be missed.”
This is an exciting transitional period in Grinnell’s approach to mental health on campus, Stern says, and the changes being made are due in large part to student involvement and recommendations. Many students voiced their opinion in surveys, in focus groups, and by actively participating in reformatting the type of care offered on campus. As Student Health and Counseling Services evolves, Stern adds, continued student involvement will further help these services develop to best respond to student needs.