UT System approves $16.5M in funding for student mental health, safety services

Leila Saidane, Senior News Reporter

On Tuesday, the University of Texas System Board of Regents approved the allocation of $16.5 million toward student mental health, student safety and alcohol education for all 13 UT System institutions over the next five years. The initiative is led by UT-Austin. 

The approval of funds comes amidst a nationwide student mental health decline, partially accredited to the coronavirus pandemic, as student counseling centers report psychiatric hospitalizations have increased by 38% over the past decade, according to the Regents’ agenda. UT System leadership recommended increased investment in mental health resources based on the significant rise in stress, anxiety and depression presented in national studies and internal reports, UT System Chancellor James Milliken said in a press release

“This is essentially a continuation of actions that the board has taken before to support much needed mental health services and also alcohol abuse services,” Milliken said during the board meeting. “We’ve learned a great deal during the pandemic about the importance of having telehealth support available, and we’ve also been able to eliminate some things that we had piloted that didn’t seem to be as useful.”

The Available University Fund’s contribution will go toward five initiatives including a mental health crisis line, expanding telehealth services, web-based alcohol education, sexual assault and harassment prevention and the Thrive at UT app. Faculty and staff will also receive additional training, including harassment and safety training. After a duration of time, the System will evaluate the impact of their initiatives. 

The 24/7 mental health crisis line, which provides crisis assessment, stabilization, intervention and referrals, will use $900,000 of the allocated funds. $10 million will be used to expand clinical mental telehealth services, available 24/7 to students through chat or phone in over 150  countries and multiple languages. 

The funding allocates $2.25 million for courses designed for college students to reduce dangerous alcohol use and prevent sexual assault and harassment. Training for faculty and staff includes an in-person suicide prevention training program. 

An investment of $150,000 toward the Thrive at UT mobile app, designed by the Counseling and Mental Health Center at UT-Austin, will provide videos, interactive assignments and chat reminders to encourage emotional intelligence and mental well-being through daily practices. 

UT-Austin has overseen the system-wide mental wellness initiative since 2011. Since then, the percentage of UT System students who were diagnosed or received services from a mental health professional has risen from 20% to 30%, according to the agenda. The recently approved funding will support new and previously established services.