Colorado Mountain College is launching a pilot program aimed at improving mental health and disability services for its students, aided by a $300,000 grant from the Colorado Health Foundation.

The grant will fund research to evaluate support and testing programs to help determine the best and most efficient use of the college’s resources in supporting students, according to a press release.

Over the past few years, CMC student support services staff and faculty said they have seen a rising number of students who need support for mental health issues.

CMC officials cite a Psychology Today report that suggests American college students have greater levels of stress and mental illness than in the past. That includes traditional (age 18-24) and nontraditional (25 and older) students.

Lisa Doak, assistant vice president for student services, said in the release that for many students a combination of navigating multiple cultures, the current economy, general uncertainty, balancing relationships and social media bring about stress leading to anxiety and depression.

Some students also have more serious mental health issues to deal with. Doak said, according to the American College Health Association, one in four college students has a diagnosable mental illness.

Colorado’s suicide rate, which has been among the highest in the country, has been climbing, according to a report from the Colorado Health Foundation.

Among the goals of the pilot program is to increase the number of students who can access mental health services and disability testing. New and expanded services will include mental health screenings, peer intervention education, infusing life/coping skills into student success classes and ongoing peer support groups with trained student mentors, overseen by a professional facilitator.

In addition, the program aims to assist students who can’t afford to be professionally assessed for a disability such as a learning disability. Americans with Disabilities Act legislation requires college students to have documentation of a disability to receive accommodations.

Students who can’t afford the testing are at a disadvantage; the pilot testing will be based on financial need to assist low-income students. “Oftentimes, after such a barrier is removed, and a student gets the right support, we see them flourish,” Doak said.

“CMC currently partners with Mind Springs Health in Garfield, Routt, Pitkin, Eagle and Summit counties and Sol Vista Health in Lake and Chaffee counties to provide mental health services for students” she said.

“As mental health needs of students increase, we are looking for cost-effective ways to help students address their needs and stay on track to completing their educational goals.”

Colorado Mountain College nursing faculty, under the leadership of faculty member Charlotte Strahm, will conduct research on current as well as prospective mental health support and disability testing services.

Betty Damask-Bembenek, the college’s director of nursing education, said, “At the end of the 4-year pilot program, a report will be issued evaluating those services and making recommendations about which are the most effective and available for students.”

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