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FAQ: W&M’s Approach to Student Mental Health

With an issue so critical and sensitive as student mental health, it is important for the William & Mary community to have accurate and full information, particularly when students may be discerning whether to seek help and support.

This article attempts to address common questions and misconceptions:

Frequently asked questions
How does W&M approach integrative wellness as it relates to student mental health?

William & Mary’s vision of integrative wellness is designed to create a systemic response that provides multiple portals of entry for students to manage both stress and distress. That includes the full continuum of prevention, health promotion, and multiple treatment modalities for intervention. The thousands of students who access W&M’s health promotion programs and services, who engage in the multiple fitness and wellness programs from the Bee McLeod Recreation Center, the McLeod Tyler Wellness Center, and the Center for Mindfulness & Authentic Excellence, and who access the wide range of clinical services from the Counseling Center (psycho-educational workshops, support groups, individual or group therapy, urgent appointments, and psychiatric services) are attending to their stress and distress in a manner that increases the likelihood that they don't go into crisis in the first place.

W&M follows a socio-ecological model that is upstream and preventative in its thinking. The university challenges the cultural norms that perpetuate toxic stress glorification; provides a wide range of services for managing stress and distress; attends to important risk and strength factors before students reach a crisis level; and effectively manages student crises when they do occur.

William & Mary respects students' personal and cultural lenses of how they view wellness and seeks to provide programs that address their areas of interest. In fact, for all wellness services, W&M Health & Wellness provides introductory workshops to inform the public of the services and the current science behind them. Oftentimes programs are offered based on students’ requests; it is one way to honor students’ curiosity and meet the goal of integrating diverse approaches into their wellness routines. Services and programs are evidence-informed to attend to the wellness needs of a community that defines wellness from diverse perspectives.

William & Mary was recently selected as the first university in the country to pilot the new Healthy Campus Framework from the American College Health Association (ACHA). This initiative provides tools and resources to help campuses progress toward being health-promoting universities by building a cornerstone, sharing strategies to create communities, and establishing a culture of health and well-being on their campuses.

How does W&M’s approach differ from other university counseling centers?

For years, counseling centers nationwide have faced a crisis of demand on counseling services. Many universities responded to this demand by essentially becoming a community mental health agency on a college campus. Because there was no systemic preventative work being done to address issues before people fell into crises, the number of crises increased. It is a model that could unintentionally enable further crises. As a result, W&M weekly receives inquiries from other universities wanting to learn more about the model deployed here.

In a recent article, "30 Colleges that Have Innovative Mental Wellness Programs: These U.S. Colleges are Redefining How Students Improve Their Mental Health," W&M was ranked No. 6 in the country for the university’s progressive approach to mental health. The article notes, "The wide range of wellness programs on offer ... is unsurprising, as Thrive Global notes that [W&M] has devoted substantial research, funding, and facilities to student well-being."  

How does William & Mary manage student crises?

Alongside the preventative model, William & Mary remains highly responsive to crises. The Counseling Center treats more students than the national average, though the severity of presenting concerns is no higher than the national average. Last year, counseling centers nationwide experienced a sharp decrease in utilization due to the pandemic and the shift to remote services.  William & Mary did not. Instead, the W&M Counseling Center had one of its highest years of clinical demand. During the 2020-2021 academic year, the Counseling Center provided 7,363 total appointments to the student body, surpassing previous years. These appointments included 898 triage/initial assessments; 140 crisis intervention sessions; 2,891 virtual individual counseling appointments; 143 virtual group therapy sessions; and 948 virtual psychiatry appointments. Despite these high numbers, the wait time for urgent concerns was the same day. For regular intake appointments, it was three days. Student evaluations of services remain very high, year after year.  

At the same time, the W&M Counseling Center does wish to add additional clinical staff. The university wants to continue to increase capacity on all points of the wellness continuum for all of the Health & Wellness departments.
What is the role of Wellness Center programming on treating students who are experiencing mental health crises?
Preventive wellness services, such as FitWell classes, massage or yoga, are not used to treat student mental health crises. William & Mary deploys both robust preventive programming and crisis interventions in its continuum model of care. The goal is to challenge toxic cultural norms and to help students develop integrated wellness practices in order to prevent reaching crisis in the first place.
What was the impetus for developing the W&M Wellness Center?

Student mental and emotional health has been a long-standing priority of William & Mary. By 2013, there was strong advocacy for an integrative wellness center on campus; by 2015, the university had developed enough funding support to add the wellness center to the university’s master plan.

W&M extensively researched the architecture of wellness in the design of the McLeod Tyler Wellness Center. That process included students on the building committee, and with their advocacy, the mission developed to create an inviting place for students to learn what wellness means to them and to break stigmas and stereotypical thinking about mental health. The location and architecture of the building were symbolic of William & Mary’s commitment to prioritizing health and wellness. Many other wellness centers still look like clinics and, naturally, students see them as places to go only when something is wrong. William & Mary wanted to shift away from that paradigm. Many students who enter the building for a specific reason often return to engage in some other form of wellness that is helpful to their mental health.

 Can you explain more about the process of how students experiencing mental health crises may be hospitalized temporarily?

William & Mary Counseling Center clinicians may refer students to an emergency room for further assessment, based on the likelihood that a student may harm themselves or others. It is during that assessment that a community behavioral health pre-screener may request a hearing by a magistrate for a temporary detention order (TDO). Considering the strict requirements for a TDO, involuntary hospitalizations indicate a substantial likelihood of death or serious injury. William & Mary Counseling Center clinicians do not involuntarily hospitalize students.

Different agencies or sources beyond the Counseling Center clinicians, including community therapists, police, roommates, family and friends, can and have initiated transports to the ER for further evaluation. The total number of transports to the emergency room and hospitalizations, including from these other sources, have in some cases been mistakenly attributed to the Counseling Center.

What about students who report suicidal ideation?

William & Mary is committed to serving the mental and emotional needs of students, meeting them wherever they are on the continuum of wellness. The William & Mary Counseling Center works with many students who report suicidal ideation. On the Counseling Center Assessment of Psychological Symptoms, a self-rating questionnaire students complete to rate the presence of certain symptoms, 25% of student-clients endorsed “I have thoughts of ending my life.” Twenty-four percent of clients at the Counseling Center indicated they have considered suicide; 24% indicated they have engaged in self-injury; 11% indicated suicidality as their primary concern. The Counseling Center treats 80% of students and refers roughly 20% of students to community providers. Of that 20%, the majority of them undertake some assessment and/or therapeutic work within the center before they are referred to a community provider.

Many students who have been hospitalized have attested that this action saved their lives and have thanked Counseling Center clincians for following best practices about suicide prevention. They have expressed that even though they didn’t realize at the time that a hospitalization was needed, their illness was clouding their perspective. They have also articulated how the hospitalization helped their family understand the significance of their health issues. Furthermore, several students have reported that the hospitalization elicited ongoing engagement in treatment and wellness-promoting behaviors as well as a desire to promote Counseling Center services for their friends and peers.

William & Mary’s Health & Wellness has been a part of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)  Suicide Prevention grant, has been a campus partner in the Jed Foundation, and has collaborated with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, all leaders of suicide prevention research and education. In these collaborations, the Counseling Center was assessed as providing a comprehensive and effective system for addressing student mental health issues on campus. In fact, William & Mary was invited to speak at SAMHSA's national conference on our system as an example of a best practices model.

What do I do if I have additional questions about William & Mary’s services and programs?

We encourage students with questions and concerns about W&M’s services to meet with Health & Wellness leadership. The Counseling Center has a Student Advisory Committee to provide a forum for open discussion; students involved are committed to not only question processes and services but they seek to understand the rationale behind decisions and strive to offer ideas and solutions. Any student interested in being part of the committee can be involved.

Health & Wellness leadership also meets each year with Student Assembly representatives to address concerns and questions and to provide open information and data voluntarily upon request. Each year, W&M analyzes collected assessment data and qualitative feedback from students, and revise the division’s work to continually grow and improve effectiveness.

Additional questions may also be sent to [[kelly.crace, R. Kelly Crace, Ph.D.; Associate VP for Health & Wellness]].

The Four Departments of Health & Wellness

The four departments of Health & Wellness offer education, service, and support to meet students' needs for well-being. Our work spans the spectrum from education, prevention, and intervention and encourages wellness, for the long term. 

Health & Wellness updates
Campus Recreation
Access & Engagement
  • Average Daily Access by Full-Time Students this week: 899
  • Total Facility Access this week: 5,947
  • Fitness & Wellness
    • Active Memberships (for access to group fitness and wellness classes & series): 1,137
    • An updated class schedule begins Oct. 20
  • Tribe Adventure
    • 6 remaining off-campus trips in the Fall semester, all programs are full.
    • Active hiring of student trip leaders
  • Intramurals
    • Current activities: Sand Volleyball, Pickleball Tournament
    • Upcoming activities: Flag Football, Floor Hockey, Dodgeball
  • Sport Clubs Highlights
    • Upcoming Events: Men's Ultimate Frisbee, Rock Climbing, Sailing, Tennis
Counseling Center
Access & Programs
  • Same-day appointment availability for urgent and critical concerns.
  • The Counseling Center is actively interviewing applicants to fill three open positions.
  • Supportive Workshops are open with new offerings including ABCs of Stress Management and Placing Connection above Perfection.
Health Promotion
Current Initiatives & New Programs
Student Health Center
Current Initiatives
  • Daily appointments are available Monday-Friday for non-covid concerns. Call 221-4386 to reserve an appointment.
  • Daily Covid Testing: Available by appointment Monday-Friday (Excluding Tuesdays) from 10-11:30 am for symptomatic students. Call 221-4386 to reserve an appointment.
  • Flu Shot Clinic: Each Monday through Nov. 1 (Excluding Fall Break) for students without UHCSR Insurance and by appointment for those with UHCSR. 

Health & Wellness Organizational Chart

Connect with services or programs

W&M Wellness App

Questions

Email us at wellness@wm.edu