Five years ago, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee had the worst mental health care of any four-year UW institution, by some measures.
Students waited the longest for counseling appointments — up to four weeks, according to a UW System audit. UWM had just one counselor for every 4,289 students, the highest ratio of any four-year UW campus and nearly three times worse than the international standard.
But the university has worked to shift those figures. In 2008, it formed a task force to identify students’ needs and find ways to improve. Some outcomes:
- The university hired two more counselors and quadrupled its number of counseling groups, said counseling center director Paul Dupont.
- Like most other UW campuses, UWM now uses a triage system to identify and help at-risk students first.
- Staffers now follow up with students referred off campus for treatment. They also track high-risk students throughout their care, Dupont said, and notify authorities if students who leave counseling are considered imminently likely to hurt themselves or others.
- The campus has stepped up suicide prevention efforts, having trained about 675 students, faculty and staff how to recognize when someone could be suicidal and assist.
- To encourage students to seek help when they might not be comfortable coming to therapy, plans are under way for counselors to offer all students first-come, first-serve consultations at designated times and locations outside the counseling center.
Those changes have brought results. While UWM’s counselor-to-student ratio remains the worst among four-year UW institutions, it has improved by 20 percent. Wait times have dropped to three weeks during busy times of the semester, said Dupont, even though there’s been a 32 percent increase in the number of new counseling appointments in the last two years.
— Daniel Rose and Amy Karon
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