UPDATE: NMU president addresses mental health resources on campus

(NMU logo on WLUC SkyTracker6 Photo)
(NMU logo on WLUC SkyTracker6 Photo)(WLUC)
Published: Apr. 14, 2022 at 2:57 PM EDT
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MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - Following recent concern by students about mental health resources on campus, the NMU president has released a statement.

The school’s president said she is negotiating to have another comprehensive campus assessment and evaluation of its mental health services.

In her weekly email update to the campus community, Interim President Kerri Schuiling said she is hopeful this work will begin soon.

She said it’s possible that by fall, the school can begin to implement strategies to continue improving critical services.

NMU’s mental health services have been criticized by students following a suicide on campus earlier this month and the subsequent suspension of a student who emailed a survey about mental health care on campus.

A protest was held last Friday.

Below is the full email Schuiling sent Wednesday, April 13:

NMU Students, Faculty and Staff,

My email this week is focused around recent tragic events on our campus. I have been asked why we have not provided more specific information about the loss of one of our students. At first, I was surprised to receive these questions and, perhaps that is because of my nursing background; in that field, we are given information on a need to know basis. As a nurse, I understand and appreciate that some information is not mine to know, or to give. However, I also recognize that it is important to be clear about what and when information can be provided to our campus community. Sometimes a delay in notifying our campus about a tragic event, such as we recently experienced, is because we are awaiting notification of all family members and for their approval to notify our campus. Sometimes the timing is due to legal reasons. We always notify campus individuals who are impacted as soon as possible, but we may not be able to notify the entire campus at the same time. Unfortunately, social media takes over and rumors grow. I realize most of the questions and concerns came from a place of caring and I very much appreciate that, because that is the NMU community I have grown to respect and love over the years.

Questions about the flag-lowering process We received some questions about NMU’s flag lowering policy. Once permission from the family is obtained, the University will lower the NMU flag in the academic mall and send an email notifying the campus of the passing of a current student, faculty or staff member. We never lower the flag without the family’s permission. Sometimes a family will give permission within days of their loved one’s passing. However, many times there is considerable delay between the passing and the flag-lowering approval. We understand that family members are working through many important decisions during this time. In fact, we don’t even bring up the flag lowering and campus-wide notification until we know the family has had time to contact everyone they need to inform about the death, and we don’t approach the subject until we believe that the family is doing well enough emotionally to consider whether they want us to lower the flag and have us send a notification to our campus community. There are times when families choose not to have this occur. We leave the decision up to them, as we should. It is also our procedure to let families choose what day the flag is lowered, if they decide to approve lowering the flag. Some choose to tie the date to their loved one’s service, or their birthday, or for a time when family members will be on campus, or the anniversary of the passing. Some families choose not to have their loved ones recognized in this very public way – it’s just too painful for them to do so. Northern will respect the wishes and the timeline of the family as they work through their grief.

NMU mental health services Northern’s commitment to mental health services has been questioned over the past week. While I understand and appreciate the concern that brings about these questions, I also can sincerely say that Northern has been, and will continue to, diligently take steps to make improvements in this area. I provide the following as information only, not in defense of what we are or should be doing, because I do believe we must continue to assess our services and to appreciate that there is always room to make improvements. As Steve Young, Chair of our Board of Trustees so aptly stated: “you don’t have to be sick to get better.”

I think it is important to start with some history on assessment of our mental health services. Approximately 10 years ago, Northern had a comprehensive assessment of its psychological services by the director of the Pennsylvania State Counseling Center. This individual was also a member of the accrediting committee of the International Accreditation of Counseling Centers and brought years of expertise in assessment and evaluation of campus counseling services. He had two specific recommendations that we implemented: to fully implement the Titanium Schedule/Management System and to expand availability of group therapy. Five years ago, at the suggestion and with the support of former Trustee Jim Haveman, we worked with JED Campus, a national program designed to assist schools with program and policy development regarding student mental health. As a result, the following positive changes in our mental health services occurred:

  • Development of a telehealth consultative service through the NMU Health Center to enable individuals who are on medications prescribed by a psychiatrist to obtain them locally. Prior to this, options for individuals using these prescribed medications was extremely limited because they are not available on our campus and there is limited access to them in the community.
  • Began an after-hours crisis service, which connects students to a licensed counselor. The counselor can call for in-person assistance of housing staff, police officers and others as needed, depending on the situation.
  • The scheduling process at the NMU Counseling Center was upgraded, making more emergency appointments available on a daily basis.
  • Additional appointments were able to be provided during times of crisis by working with Pathways, a community mental health organization.
  • The promotion of Dial Help, a U.P.-wide, 24-hour crisis center, was increased to better assure students were aware of this service as well as other area resources.
  • Suicide prevention training was provided for professional staff across campus, and all student housing staff.

As I mentioned, I realize there is more we can do and to that end. I am negotiating to have another comprehensive campus assessment and evaluation of our mental health services. I am hopeful this work will begin soon so that by fall we can begin to implement strategies to continue improvement of these critical services.

Additionally, NMU continues to be in conversations with local and statewide organizations about how we can work collaboratively to support our region’s efforts to increase the availability of mental health services not only in Marquette, but UP wide. The shortage of mental health workers is a well-known fact. It is hoped that our Master of Social Work (MSW) program will help decrease this shortage.

And finally, to further support student health and wellbeing, NMU is constructing a new Health and Wellness Center near the residence halls. The new Center will offer greater access and service options when it opens in Fall 2023.

Mental health needs are challenging universities on a national scale. They are challenging Northern. NMU will continue to remain committed to continuing to making improvements.

While I know the following list of resources available for NMU community members has been provided previously, I think it is worth providing again. Please do not be shy about reaching out for assistance. Students can receive assistance through the NMU Counseling Center (ccs@nmu.edu, 906-227-2980), the University’s online, off-hours crisis counseling services (1-800-384-1800), and the Therapy Assistance Online (TAO) resource program, or by reaching out to a faculty member, work supervisor, coach or other NMU staff member with whom you feel comfortable. Employees can receive support through the Pathways Employee Assistance Program or talking to a department head or co-worker. Pathways is also assisting with student appointments for times when the Counseling Center may be at capacity.

Skill Builder workshop on grief and resilience Dr. Yan Ciupak, associate professor of sociology, is conducting a Skill Builder workshop titled, “Grief, Resilience, Post-traumatic Growth” from 6-8 p.m. tonight, Wednesday, April 13, in Jamrich Hall, room 1322.  Topics will include stress, resilience of individuals and communities, different kinds of loss and grief and grief support and healing. Attendees will get the chance to reflect on how to understand and process stress and grief. The workshop is free and open to all members of the NMU community, but participants are asked to register to attend at The Hub.

Final Thoughts… There are many who deserve our thanks for their work and support over the last two weeks. I want to publicly recognize and thank the members of our campus police department who immediately responded to the 911 call and who had the difficult task of informing the family of their child’s passing. These individuals are true professionals and much of the work they do to keep our campus safe is not always obvious. We owe them a deep debt of gratitude. I also thank Chris Greer and people in the Dean of Students Office for their work in providing support to the family and impacted students at such a difficult time. And, a very heartfelt thank you to our counseling staff who came immediately to campus Sunday night when called to provide important (and ongoing) support to students, staff and faculty. Each of these professionals had very difficult jobs to do and they did so with the utmost care, always maintaining high ethical standards.

Sincerely, Dr. Kerri D. Schuiling, Interim President

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