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Interdisciplinary Conference Illuminates the Current State of Mental Healthcare on College Campuses


Members of Fordham’s law, psychology, and social service communities gathered on Feb. 21 to discuss new, collaborative strategies to improve mental healthcare on higher education campuses.

Sponsored by the School of Law, the Stein Center for Law and Ethics, the Department of Psychology, and the Graduate School of Social Service (GSS) Be The Evidence Project, “Legal, Ethical and Mental Health Issues on Today’s Higher Education Campus” presented interdisciplinary views on the state of mental healthcare and how the legal system affects its implementation.

“We’re very concerned about helping university faculty, staff, students, and families understand how to improve the coordination of services at universities and colleges,” said presenter Mary Beth Morrissey, Ph.D., J.D., a postdoctoral researcher for the GSS Hartford Risk and Resilience Project.

“We’ve also looked at legal issues for mental health counselors as well as administrators, such as deans, vice presidents, and directors of health services,” she added. “When you have any kind of crisis situation involving the mental health needs of a student, there are liability concerns for the university and the student’s family… We want our participants to be well-briefed on what the rules [exist]under the professional ethical codes.”

With its tripartite aim to highlight the legal, the ethical, and the medical, the conference featured professionals from various disciplines presenting such topics as “Medical/Psychiatric Issues” and “Violence on Campus, Legal Issues and Interaction of State and Federal Law.”

During the final session of the day, panelists from several colleges and universities offered examples of how their institutions integrate resources for students. Nance Roy, Ed.D., the director of health services at Sarah Lawrence College, described the College’s protocol for students experiencing a mental health crisis.

According to Roy, the student does not receive isolated treatment from just one provider, but rather receives a continuum of care that spans departments. The College’s health services providers and mental health counselors communicate frequently with one another, as well as with any hospitals, off-campus treatment centers, or family doctors from whom the student receives treatment.

“In addition to being integrated in a physical location, we also have shared electronic medical records, which means that our medical providers can see mental health records and mental health counselors can see medical records of students,” Roy said. “Our mission is to treat and teach the whole student and not just a particular segment of the student’s constitution.”

Commenting on Fordham’s response to students’ mental health needs, Jeffrey Gray, vice president for student affairs, said that the University’s mental health services have become a key component to enhancing “the developmental needs of the whole person.”

“The landscape of college student mental health has become increasing complex and challenging over the years, and is an area where student affairs administrators and counseling services clinical staff spend an increasing amount of time and attention,” he said.

Consequently, the University has in place an integrated network of support and communication that fosters collaboration among those who work closely with students.

“This community network involves multiple and varied initiatives focused on training and communication on many levels,” Gray said. “It includes but is not limited to resident assistants and resident directors, health care practitioners, clinical counseling services staff, residential life staff, security, academic deans, faculty members and the dean of students and other senior managers.

“Moreover, reliance on effective communication and outreach must also include campus peers, student leaders, parents and other family members, and external care providers,” he continued.

In any college or university, Morrissey said, such an integrated effort requires cooperation.

“We want participants to gain a heightened awareness and sensitivity to the need for greater dialogue among faculty, staff, students, and families [regarding]access to mental health services and coordinating services across all units of a college or university,” she said. “The goal is to support students in their education, with the best interest of the students always at the center of the discussion.”

The conference was co-sponsored by the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) Health Law Section, the NYSBA Committee on Ethical Issues in the Provision of Health Care, the NYSBA Committee on Issues Affecting Persons with Disabilities, and the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York. It served as the kick-off for the New York State Coalition of National Health Care Decisions Day.


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