Wings of Hope

Students and community members at Weber State University fold thousands of origami birds for the "Wings of Hope" project on Oct. 14, 2019. The project is part of October's Mental Health Awareness Month.

OGDEN — In an effort to meet increasing student need for mental health support, Weber State University will continue to offer students, faculty and staff free access to digital mental health support for a second year.

The digital platform, called TAO (Therapy Assistance Online) Connect, is offered to students in conjunction with counseling through Weber State’s Counseling and Psychological Services Center or as a stand-alone service that they can work through independently, said Amy Blunck, coordinator of mental health initiatives and licensed clinical mental health counselor for the university’s counseling center.

“I think we’re all grappling with the student mental health demands, and many ... counseling centers are looking at different ways to meet those demands,” Blunck said.

According to Susan Powers, client success manager at TAO Connect, 156 universities currently use the platform.

TAO Connect is composed of educational modules on different aspects of mental health that are tailored to traditional and nontraditional students.

In a module on interpersonal relationships and communication, a traditional college student could see examples of conflicts in a dorm. A nontraditional student could see examples related their family, Blunck said.

As of Tuesday, 393 students at Weber State have enrolled in TAO Connect on their own, and 119 have signed up through the university counseling center, Blunck said.

“TAO is really just one of the ways we’re addressing the demands for student mental health,” Blunck said. “This is a great program for nearly any college student managing the demands of college ... they’re struggling with some anxiety or maybe mild to moderate depression symptoms. It’s less appropriate for folks who are dealing with suicidal thoughts.”

The university counseling center will provide services to students in crisis during the business day, but students in are encouraged to use the SAFE UT app or phone number for crisis intervention at other times, Blunck said.

In addition to free counseling services for up to 30 visits, Weber State offers a weekly peer support group and a credit-bearing course on mental health awareness and advocacy through a grant-funded program called the Wildcat Support Network.

The need for mental health support among students at Weber State is significant, mirroring national trends.

Weber State administers a survey every two years to students called the National College Health Assessment, which is produced by the American College Health Association, Blunck said.

Results from Weber State’s most recent administration of the assessment, which occurred midway through the spring semester of 2019, indicate that 46.7% of Weber State students reported feeling so depressed it was difficult for them to function within the past year, Blunck said.

The numbers on anxiety were even higher, with 65.6% of respondents to the 2019 survey reporting that they felt overwhelming anxiety in the past year.

Most concerning, 16.1% of students indicated that they had seriously considered suicide within the past year, an increase of 3% since 2017.

Weber State is similar to the national average on its percentage of students reporting depression that interferes with their functioning and the percentage reporting overwhelming anxiety.

However, Weber State is higher than the national average on the percentage of students who have considered suicide within the past year, at 16.1% compared to the national average of 13.3%, Blunck said.

A percentage of Weber State students who report ever being diagnosed with depression is 10% above the national average, with 36.5% of students at Weber State reporting a diagnosis, compared to 25% nationally, Blunck said.

In 2019, 29% of Weber State students reported being diagnosed with anxiety, an increase of 6% from 2017, when 23% of students reported a diagnosis.

The share of students reporting depression diagnosis has also increased 6% in the past two years, from 20% to 26%, Blunck said.

In recognition of these needs, Weber State will hold a mental health day from 9:30 a.m. to noon on Tuesday, Oct. 22, in the Shepherd Union atrium, where students can learn about managing stress and participate in various stress-relieving activities, like interacting with therapy dogs.

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