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Another Voice: Gates Foundation grant helps WNY colleges bolster mental health

By Matthew Giordano

On Jan. 4, The Buffalo News published a commentary about the need for colleges to be attentive to students’ mental health. The piece accurately underscores the rapidly growing trend of students presenting serious mental health issues on campus.

The good news is that many colleges have been scaling up mental health supports and programming for several years. At Villa Maria College, where I am president, for example, we have created the Care Center, where students can receive mental health counseling, attend presentations and group discussions promoting good mental health, be connected to appropriate social services, and decompress in a safe and comfortable setting.

The Care Center is an extension of the Care Team, a group of senior administrators, student support staff members, and faculty members who meet weekly to plan interventions for students referred to them by faculty and staff members across the college.

Over the last several years, we certainly have experienced an increase in the numbers of students who require support, but with the Care Team and the Care Center, we are able to identify and help them in a timely way.

At Villa, the days of simply making counseling services available to students are long gone; now, we have a fully integrated, collegewide infrastructure for proactively addressing students’ mental health concerns.

Recently, Villa’s efforts have been bolstered by the grant that Say Yes Buffalo received from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Among other things, the grant has enabled Villa, Medaille, SUNY Erie and SUNY Buffalo State to pilot housing professional mental health clinics directly on campus as an extension of the clinics that Say Yes has been overseeing in Buffalo Public Schools.

The fact that the Gates Foundation, the largest philanthropic organization in the world, is willing to fund these clinics affirms the effectiveness of the Say Yes model and demonstrates that Western New York is taking a pioneering approach to mental health supports on college campuses.

I completely concur with the article’s advice to parents that “the aim is not to find the ‘best’ college, but to find the best college that suits your son or daughter.” “Fit” increasingly means that families think seriously about students’ prospects for mental and emotional well-being on any particular campus.

Although there is much more work to do, it’s important for Western New York’s students to know that much has already been done to make sure that their needs are met and that they have the resources they need so that anxiety, depression and other mental health issues do not derail them from their goal of earning a college degree.

Matthew Giordano is the president of Villa Maria College.

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