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Home U Rising On World Mental Health Day, we’re checking in on how our students our doing


October 10 is World Mental Health Day, designed to raise awareness about this important public health issue. The mental health of college students came to wider public attention during the pandemic. Has anything changed since then? Are students experiencing similar stressors today? What are we doing to better address our students’ needs? Listen as experts Scott McAward and Sherrá Watkins share their insights with U Rising host Chris Nelson.

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On World Mental Health Day, we’re checking in on how our students are doing


Chris Nelson: Welcome to U Rising, where we share stories about interesting and often groundbreaking research and innovations taking place at the University of Utah.

Today we're going to talk about student mental health—timely because it happens to be World Mental Health Day, which is designed to raise awareness about mental health issues and reduce stigma while promoting mental well-being.

We're going to talk about how our college students are faring, what we're doing to support them and improve their mental health, and where students can find resources when needed.

This is such an important topic. In an earlier episode of U Rising, my colleague Julie Kiefer noted that according to the World Health Organization, anxiety and depression increased globally by 25% in the first year of the pandemic. The WHO is not the only organization raising the alarm about mental health.

Last October, the American Psychological Association said the mental health of college students is in crisis. It noted more than 60% of college students met the criteria for at least one mental health problem according to the Healthy Mind study, which surveys 373 campuses nationwide.

My guests today are Dr. Scott McAward, executive director of the University Counseling Center, and Dr. Sherrá Watkins, associate vice president for student health and wellness. I'm excited to have this conversation and learn more about what's happening at the U, and I'd like to mention that given today's topic, I'll be sharing some resources at the end of this podcast for listeners who may need help.

So you're both fairly new to your positions. Let's start with introductions. Scott, you were selected as executive director of the University Counseling Center just over a year ago. Tell us what you were doing before that and give us a little bit of your background.

Scott McAward: Thank you, Chris. I'm really happy to be here today. I'm a licensed psychologist and receive my Ph.D. in counseling psychology, actually here at the University of Utah. I've worked almost my entire career in higher education, including my predoctoral internship at the University of Iowa and fellowship at The Ohio State University. I came back to the U 20 years ago this past summer actually and spent my first five years here in the counseling center as assistant director. Then spent 14 years as the director of the Center for Disability & Access, and returned to the University Counseling Center in my current role in October 2022.

Scott McAward

Sherrá Watkins

Chris Nelson: Excellent. Sherrá, you're also celebrating a one-year anniversary in your position, a new one at the U. Tell us about your background and your role as associate vice president for student health and wellness.

Sherrá Watkins: So, my background is very eclectic. My first two degrees is  in health education and promotion, and my latter two degrees is actually in clinical mental health counseling and substance use counseling. And so the course of my career, I have worked with those living with different types of disabilities that are typically hidden. So, patients living with HIV and AIDS, those living with sickle cell and those living with hemophilia. So, it's been very interesting to work in what we call comprehensive care centers and working with other types of health care professionals in what we call multidisciplinary teams.

Over the course of my 15 years of being in this field, I have led those multidisciplinary teams in what we call ambulatory care centers that have typically been attached to either a university hospital system or within, not attached to a university hospital system. And then, of course, working within the university, I have been a professor also and so it's been a very unique and diverse in and out of higher education in different steps of my career.

Chris Nelson: Well, welcome and welcome to the U.

Sherrá Watkins: Thank you.

Chris Nelson: It seems like when we talk about mental health, we can divide it into pre-pandemic and post-pandemic. If there was a benefit to the pandemic, maybe it is it did bring student mental health and hopefully de-stigmatizing talking about it to the forefront, not just at the U, but on college campuses across the country.

Let's start with you, Scott. What are you seeing today as far as student mental health from your vantage point?

Scott McAward: Yeah, so we have known for a while that students have been dealing with increased mental health challenges, and this certainly was the case pre-pandemic and it continues to be the case. And the latest data from the Nationwide Healthy Mind study that you referenced in the opening, depression and anxiety are the leading reasons students were seeking counseling across the nation. And this mirrors what we see on campus. For example, on this data on depression screen, 41% of the students in that sample reported moderate or severe depression and 36% reported moderate or severe anxiety.

And this is also accompanied by suicidality, with about 14% of students reporting suicide ideation, eating disorder, trauma-related disorders. And what we are seeing that is new is that this is the first year that traditional age students who have had their entire high school experience impacted by the pandemic have now enrolled in college. So, if you think about that, the last full year of their schooling for traditional-aged students that was not impacted was their eighth-grade year. So, I do think this has shaped their experience as they enter college today.

Chris Nelson: And Sherrá, so obviously the pandemic had that impact. Are you seeing any improvement in overall well-being, both here, what we're seeing locally, but also your experience nationally?

Sherrá Watkins: I definitely think we are seeing some improvements, and I'm going to look at it two different ways. The first way is that, as Scott mentioned, the students were dealing with health and wellness issues, and I'm going to use those two terms very broadly, because they were living it as a part of the pandemic and they were seeking different types of coping and healing mechanisms while they were within their homes and community.

And so when we look at current data, most of the students have reported across the nation that they were already seeking health and wellness services prior to coming to campus. And so they were also looking for campuses that can continue those health and wellness services once they got here. They're already talking about health and wellness. They wanted to ensure they can transfer those services once they got here. And so, there is a decreased stigma when it comes to it.

That is one of the very first pieces. The other types of improvements that we're seeing when it comes to the students is that they're being very creative in how they're seeking it. We're having to be, once again, creative on how we're creating our service accessibility within higher education. And so the other part to that data that we also saw, the downside to that, is that we typically have seen more low to moderate chronically ill students and also diagnosis for mental health. But after COVID, we see those diagnosis to be moderate to severe and that higher education has never been set up to serve.  We typically have been short term and solution focused, what we call one time or one to three sessions type of college settings in our university counseling centers. And so that will be slightly, the downside to it is that we haven't typically seen those students who are more higher severity than we have typically seen in the past decade. And so they're talking about it more. They're wanting to seek services, they're wanting to access services, whether it's counseling or coaching or even peer supports. And so we have to meet those needs, but there's more moderate to severe types of severity that we're seeing in our students.

Chris Nelson: Do you think that's because we're better at diagnosing it or literally there's just more severe mental health issues out there for students?

Sherrá Watkins: I think it's a combination. I think it's D, all of the above. I think because of Medicaid expansion, we are seeing better accessibility to traditionally and historically marginalized populations. Not completely 100% better, but more improved. And then two, we're seeing better health literacy within some of these populations and more. And then also we're seeing better diagnosis because of cultural competency within us as mental health providers. And that means psychiatrists, LMTs, psychologists, we're doing a better job, still can be improved. And then we also, for many, and this is all different types of demographics, we're holding our providers accountable. If something doesn't seem right, something doesn't feel right, we're no longer accepting that, oh, you are, okay, come back to it and we can discuss it in your next appointment. There are many people that are dying or who are attempting suicide or completing suicide, and we're no longer accepting that in our different types of communities, we're holding our clinicians to be accountable to our health care.

Chris Nelson: So, I want to come back to some of those. But before that, Scott, we know during the pandemic, the big challenges in 2021 was isolation. What are the stressors today that you're seeing? Your team is on the ground, you're talking to students every single day, what are some of those major factors right now?

Scott McAward: Yeah, so although the physical isolation that came with the pandemic has in most ways resolved, there are certainly lingering effects. The idea of students' sense of belonging or more importantly, lack of, remains a significant piece of our students' experience. On that same healthy mind survey, over 60% reported feeling isolated from others often or some of the time. And that is really significant. In addition, pressure related to academic, finances, experience of inclusion, trauma, continues to impact our students. During our last academic year, so, taking it to our campus, the top four presenting concerns presented to the counseling center were depression, anxiety, stress and academic.

But also in the top 10 were loneliness, social anxiety, family and relationships. So, I really do think that the pandemic, while the physical isolation has resolved, the impacts have certainly lingered a lot longer than that.

Chris Nelson: Let's push that a little bit. I'm not sure if this is for you Sherrá or for you Scott, but the resources we talk about and the conversations happening in our campus. Sherrá, you touched on this a little bit, but I was a student here in the mid-‘90s. Honestly, it would've never occurred to me to seek mental health counseling from the university. Fast forward 30 yearsish, I've got a daughter here and I know that that's a resource that she can access. So maybe for somebody who has not been on a campus lately, what do those resources look like and how have those conversations changed? Maybe especially talking to our alumni. I don't know who wants to take that.

Sherrá Watkins: You want to start first?

Scott McAward: Happy to. I think from a positive perspective, conversations about mental health are much more prevalent across most areas of campus. And previously those conversations were present, but often more limited in scope or within just a few areas or if you had a very specific event or need. And it was also perhaps a priority for only a few parts of campus. This has fortunately changed. I do think that it's being discussed from top to bottom. There's a reduced stigma, yes, but there's still actually a long ways to go. And I think students are coming to campus with a different language around their mental health and their mental well-being. I think the challenge is to work with students around that language to really help students understand what are they experiencing and what is the best resource for them to reach out. And a part of this is we're working really hard to expand the conversation of well-being beyond mental health, taking a more holistic approach.

Sherrá Watkins: So, when we're looking at this holistic approach, we want to first start off with them understanding that students have agency in what that approach looks like. And so within our five departments of health and wellness, we have the University Counseling Center, our Center for Campus Wellness, our Student Health Center, our Center for Disability & Access, and then our Campus Recreation Services.

And I think that's very important because it's really looking at integrated health care. We are a healthcare system at the University of Utah, and so within each of those five different departments, each one of those has what we call preventative health care measures for our students. So we want to prevent them from becoming unwell, and then we want, for those who may have a diagnosis, we want to prevent them from getting worse. And then for those who need treatment, once again because they have those diagnosis, we want to keep them to be maintained in balance.

So within our Center for Campus Wellness, we have wellness coaching, we have Recovery at the U, we have our pleasure packs for preventative and barrier methods, and then we also have workshops. Within our Center for Disability & Access, for those students who need accommodations—and I think it's very important to note those students who are living with chronic disease, whether it is diabetes or physical limitation, deaf and hard of hearing and also that it's inclusive of mental illness and neurodiversity, which we label as a hidden disability.

They can receive accommodations in the classrooms because we want to make sure that they're successful, that they are able to matriculate and most importantly graduate. And then we also have within our Student Health Center that they're able to most importantly receive well care visits, OBGYN, any type of medical care that they typically may need to receive.

But also there's some duality within student health care and also our counseling center, they both offer medication management, which is you can receive medications for your mental health services. And then lastly, within our recreation center, we also have nutrition, fitness, personal coaching. And so we're hoping to once again be just as inclusive with our recreation center because we know that those types of movement, nutrition, one-on-one fitness and also coaching can be just as beneficial as individual counseling. And so, we're working collectively to make sure that students are aware of all of these different types of services and they can work with any entrance into any one of those departments to create their own health care plan.

Chris Nelson: So, we're really set up to not only take care of the students who come with known mental health issues, but also as students are here and identify them or develop them, we can work with that as well. That's interesting. And I love that under Student Affairs, we do have our student recreation services and our mental health services, that holistic approach to it.

Chris Nelson: Sherrá, let ask you a question. So, for the skeptic out there, somebody who maybe graduated like me many years ago, and they look at the university and say, you know, the university shouldn't be providing mental health resources. It's there to educate, it's there to train, it's there to get people ready for the workforce. How do you answer that? Why does the university provide these mental health resources for students?

Sherrá Watkins: I think it's our responsibility that as much as we provide academic acumen to our students to make them professionals in the field, we want them to be the best of the best. It is also our responsibility to provide them with adequate health care. It's also our responsibility to provide them with health literacy.

And I hate to say it this way, but I am. Many parents and guardians are dropping their babies off to us, and it is our job for us to, once again, to take care of them as they have been taken care in their homes and/ or sometimes foster care systems. And this is also when we're looking at social determinants of health—in simple words, the basic needs of our students. We have to provide the basic needs of our students, which means holistic health. And unfortunately for some of our students, this is the first time they will be able to access health care or access health care for the first time independently without their parents and or guardians.

And so it is our responsibility to teach them to be citizens, which means that we have to provide for some who've never experienced it, and we have to also teach those who may be utilizing it for the first time. You talked about being a skeptic, but I remember my first full-time job and looking at the paper saying pick which insurance policy that you want. And this one has a high deductible and this one has a co-pay, and I didn't understand the difference.

So, if we're churning out diplomas, can we churn out health literacy that teach our students how to navigate having a conversation with their health care provider and also health literacy to understand, how do I understand choosing the right health care plan. Also when I graduate, too, so we get the data, where did you get a job within six months? But also did you know how to sign up for the right health care plan, too? It is our fiscal responsibility as students are investing in their education that we also invest back in quality health care.

Chris Nelson: Good answer. So, Scott, we're a university that's providing mental health services for our students. We also train mental health providers. What is the role of that training? Is there a training that's done through the counseling center?

Scott McAward: Yeah, I talk about the role of the counseling center really having three main pillars. Obviously one of our main pillars is our clinical support, our clinical services, so our individual counseling, our group counseling, our support counseling. The second pillar is our programming and outreach, and we really think about our programming and outreach as an extension of our clinical services and an extension of our mental health support. So, one of the examples of program and outreach that we do is last month we actually held a chalk art festival out there by the Block U, and the theme of that was Vibes of Hope. It was really about how do we encourage sharing positive vibes, positive message around mental health. So, we really see that an important component of what we do as well.

But I also think that an equally important pillar is our training program. So, we have an APA-accredited training program in psychology where we have full-time doctoral interns that come to us, spend the year with us providing clinical services and get trained. They typically come from other campuses to us.

We also have training programs within social work as well as within educational psychology and the counseling program. And, you know, I think that one of our responsibilities as an agency is certainly to take care of students, but we also have responsibility for the pipeline of mental health professionals that have an expertise in college student mental health that want to work and support students. So, I really do see that as a major responsibility of the counseling center. In order to continue to sustain and grow our support and our knowledge and our ability to support students, we need those trainees in the pipeline.

Chris Nelson: One of the scenarios that I hear a lot is, and there's usually from parents, my student needs an appointment and I can't get an appointment soon enough.

Scott, what's your answer? I know you get that question a lot. How do you respond to those questions?

Scott McAward: Yeah, so it might be helpful to talk a little bit about what types of services that we offer. We offer a wide range of services and we frame it under what is called the Stepped Care model.

So, in other words, we look for what services best match for the student, their presenting concerns. And really the scope of our work in the counseling center, so oftentimes when someone thinks or they're referred to counseling center, they automatically think of individual counseling. However, other services may be a better match. For example, we offer skills workshops around such topics as stress management, resiliency, mindfulness, trauma, building relationships.

We also offer support groups and group therapy, some with a specific focus while others are much more general. And of course, we offer individual therapy, operating on generally a brief therapy model. In addition, students receiving counseling services also have access to our psychiatric services, including medication management. And then for those needing services outside of campus, we also offer a care manager to assist, and we provide crisis intervention in a single session.

And something that we've started this year, last year we worked really, really hard to try to break that narrative that it was a long wait for the counseling center, and we operated throughout most of the academic year with a wait for that initial intake appointment for about two to five days, two to five school days.

We've instituted a new model this fall called initial consultation because we recognize that some students may not need to go through a full intake with us, that they could benefit from talking to a staff member for a shorter period of time to really assess what is the best service. Is it something within the counseling center? Or perhaps can we get that student to another service on campus that's a better match? And so we call these now initial consultations, and so students can make those appointments, they make them online, they can call us, and that appointment can be over the phone and it's just a 30-minute snapshot.

We're hoping that that's going to continue to expand that access, but it does get a challenge during peak times for certain. But we really hope that the days of waiting a long time for that initial contact hopefully is going to be behind us. We really think that that first touch point is critical and that we want students to be able to know that they can come, they can schedule with us or they can go to any of the other services as well, and really get that immediate access through a door to at least find out what's going to be a good match for them.

Chris Nelson: And I would assume that a lot of these students who are maybe exploring their mental health for the first time, it's recognition that a lot of students are going through this and a group setting may be just as effective as an individual setting as well.

Scott McAward: Absolutely.

Chris Nelson: Alright, so Scott, I've got a blunt question for you. Are we able to meet the demand for services and what additional resources are needed do you think?

Scott McAward: Well, to be honest, given the increased prevalence of mental health concerns students experience combined with our increasing enrollment and increasing on-campus residents, it is challenging to meet the demand for services, particularly during peak times during the academic year. The UCC, the Counseling Center, has certainly expanded staff, but there is a nationwide challenge of recruiting mental health professionals to college counseling centers. So, we are not unique in that aspect. So we're actively working to try to address this issue and look for ways to expand resources to be able to recruit and retain our counselors to support students.

Chris Nelson: But I know during the pandemic everything went online. Are you seeing that students still want that online service? Are they looking for that in-person? What's your mix right now?

Scott McAward: We'll never go back to how it was. That's my initial thing.

Sherrá Watkins: Agreed.

Scott McAward: You know, I think that the pandemic had many impacts. I think some of the positive was I think it really expanded our approach and how we can support students. So we have seen a marked increase in requests for in-person services, and I think that's going to continue. I think we have, as more residence halls come online and enrollment continues to increase, some students that in-person connection is really, really important. But we're continuing to offer our virtual services as well. I think that what we're going to see over this next year is that ratio is probably going to settle in to a little higher in-person, but I don't anticipate the virtual services that we provide will be going away.

Chris Nelson: Sherrá, any other out-of-the-box approaches we're looking at?

Sherrá Watkins: Well, we also have Telus Health, formerly known as My SSP, which is for our students because some, once again, may not want to physically come or utilize our health care within UCC because again, it's all about agency and autonomy and choosing what you would prefer. And so we want to make sure that students and also parents and our Utah community know that it is also another option that they can choose. And it's also available for our students who are not within the state of Utah. So it's for students on campus and also for students outside the state of Utah due to our national laws that we're constantly enduring, for those of us in this field and those of our students who are international, and this is a 24/7 app, 365, where they can receive coaching and counseling. They just need to go to their app store and use their U id.

Some other creative services that we have already started, which will also be within Scott's realm, would be our embedded services where we embed counselors into different types of either academic departments or different types of identity centers, which is once again, to meet with those specialized populations that are traditionally marginalized to meet those students who may not necessarily come into the UCC. And so we're looking to try to be creative. And so we have those in different types of identity centers.

The newest way that we're trying to be creative is how do we, once again, use data to move forward with creating new resources and services.  I would say that's where we're moving to next. And so what we're going to start with for this year is doing some town halls. We want to know what the student's user experience is as they're navigating within our offices and use that data as we're moving into the next fiscal year.

Chris Nelson: Alright. And we do this for all the right reasons, but we also have some legal requirements, Scott, so what are those requirements for college age students as a university?

Scott McAward: So, services at the UCC are highly confidential. Records are kept separate from a student's academic record. They can't be released or shared without a student's specific written permission. Legally, we do have some exceptions, understanding of federal law that includes instances of abuse of a child or a vulnerable adult, immediate risk of harm to others. This is discussed in detail during an initial contact. The one exception to that is students under 18 that come to us, we do require parental consent in order to receive services at the UCC. But confidentiality is really the bedrock of our work in the mental health field. Without that, then we really can't be effective in supporting students.

Chris Nelson: Yeah, let's talk about faculty and staff just for a moment as well. I'm not sure who should take this one, but faculty and staff are often the first people interfacing with our students and obviously faculty and staff have their own mental health needs. So, what is the role of the University Counseling Center with faculty and staff?

Scott McAward: So the UCC is available to consult with faculty and staff if they're working with a student in distress. In addition, we have an active outreach program that provides training and presentations to faculty and staff. And, for example, in partnership with the Dean of Students' Office, one of the presentation we often provide is entitled, “Working With Distressed Students” workshop. That is in some ways trying to help staff at least be able to recognize students that might be challenging with mental health, but even more importantly, to develop a sense of comfort, develop a better sense of when is this something that I need to refer the student to some greater level of care versus is this something that I can work with?

Another program that's being led primarily by Center for Campus Wellness is our Mental Health First Aid program. That is a national program that is kind of a structured idea of how do we teach non-clinicians mental health first aid across a wide spectrum. Again, not to teach how to be a clinician, but how do I work with someone that might be in an acute distress, might be suicidal or might have other issues as well.

Sherrá Watkins: And can I mention one more? So, up under the Center for Campus Wellness, our Victim-Survivor Advocacy, which I also forgot to mention earlier, is available for not just students, but also for staff and faculty. So, these are those who may be dealing with any type of interpersonal violence, stalking. Faculty and staff are free to utilize that service if they need help with navigating any of those types of issues. And then, of course, staff and faculty can pay for a membership within our campus recreation center. So right now, those are the only two departments that they can actually access any type of services at this time.

And then, of course, the chief wellness officer for faculty and staff, if they have questions or concerns, would be Amy Locke. She is my counterpart on the faculty side and she's over Osher Integrative Health. And so faculty/staff, once again, if they have concerns or they want to know what are the current resources or they’re looking for more additional resources and would like to make some recommendations, that would be the best recommendation I would say that's where you would need to go.

Chris Nelson: Sure. And of course, faculty and staff have access to the Employee Assistance Program through our health insurance. So great points. I would be remiss in not asking, this is a full episode about the Huntsman Mental Health Institute, but a lot of people see the Huntsman Mental Health Institute and it's a tremendous resource on our campus. How does your team, Sherrá, interface with the Huntsman services?

Sherrá Watkins: My position is graciously funded by the Huntsman Mental Health Institute, so I'm definitely grateful for that. But as we're looking at integrated health care, working with them to see what is the discharge process like for our students as they're coming back from that discharge process, from that healthcare site. Also looking at some current issues of our students dealing with external health insurance issues from out-of-state when trying to seek mental health care in that site. Because some students, once again, are sometimes in a wait or holding period or they're trying to navigate our students to another possible hospital system because of health insurance issues. And so working with that, so working collaboratively with that hospital system. And then most importantly, what does the leave policy look like? And so we're looking at policy, which is currently done collaboratively with our JED initiative that we have on campus of what does our paperwork process look like, our consent look like as students are once again being discharged. If they happen to have an inpatient experience, how can we work with HMHI, our Dean of Students Office, and also on campus, if a student is returning back to campus or needs to take a leave of absence, there are many different moving parts. How can we work together? And then I will let Scott talk about our HMHI process, our program that we have here on campus. But from my perspective, I'm looking at policy and procedure and how can we make this process smoother for students as they're navigating sometimes mental health crisis.

Chris Nelson: Yeah, so again, the role of the Huntsman Mental Health Institute is that more severe kind of inpatient/ outpatient service, but for a student who's just on campus, starting with, of course, the University Counseling Center.

Scott McAward: You know, another out of the box approach that is happening on our campus is the establishment of what is called the MH1. The MH1 team was developed in a partnership with HMHI, the  University Counseling Center, Housing and Residential Education and other stakeholders on campus. And what the MH1 is, is an embedded clinical, really a crisis team within on-campus housing. This is led by Torrence Wimbish and his staff is present in the residence halls from about 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. every day. And they can provide a phone crisis, in-person support for students. They can also actually accompany residence hall staff to a student. So it is the idea of embedding a mobile crisis response team within the residence halls. It's been really highly affective and really becoming a model program. In fact, in the state of Utah, other campuses are beginning to create these teams and really, I think we're really leading the edge in terms of what does it mean to provide that care. The counseling center plays a partnership with MH1 for that continuity of care. So regular contact with the MH1 in terms of, okay, what other wraparound care that we can provide students in the residence halls.

Chris Nelson: So, just to be really clear, an example, so I'm a student in the residence hall. I may be feeling down, I may have some dark thoughts and it's just as simple as calling that number.

Scott McAward: It is, yeah. So, the University Counseling Center provides a crisis between about 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. every day during normal business hours. And there's always been a hole, there's always been a gap in need about we are a residential campus and students live with us 24/7 and they don't need mental health support just between 8 and 6. They certainly do. And so it was really a way of how are we embedding services so that if a student might be feeling down, they don't have to be in an acute crisis, they may just say, I need to talk to somebody. That's what MH1 is there for.

Chris Nelson: Okay, Sherrá, in an interview with The Daily Utah Chronicle, which is our student newspaper on campus, you mentioned the nine dimensions of wellness. So, talk to our audience about that a little bit.

Sherrá Watkins: The nine dimensions of wellness comes from the public health framework, which talks about different nine dimensions that helps us to be holistic and whole. Those nine dimensions are environmental wellness, physical wellness, emotional wellness, intellectual wellness, social wellness, cultural wellness, spiritual wellness, financial wellness and occupational wellness. And I do have to say a caveat, if you go to Google, you know, we all love Google, you will see that every campus and sometimes different other types of entities, corporate and also higher education, may take out different types of dimensions. So, for example, one other one that is very popular that we're starting to see is maybe the use of social media and computers, our creativity is now being looped in for some dimensions because we're using technology so much, are we using creativity in different types of aspects? It, once again, can be different based off of different types of departments or different types of organizations.

But what the premise of the nine dimensions is really to look at that we are not one-dimensional beings. We are multi-dimensional. And as we're trying to look at what is our pathway to overall well-being, which is to try to accomplish the best version of ourselves sometime in this lifetime, we all hope to get there. How do we best serve the different areas of our lives and our being in order to get there? So, for example, for my physical health, am I moving, am I eating well for my emotional health? Am I caring for myself? Am I acknowledging my emotions for spiritual, not religious? Is there a belief that I'm working in my purpose or do I have a belief in a higher power or do I give to others and care for others? And so each dimension has pretty much with this title, a very simple definition aligned to it.

But the uniqueness is is that we say we sometimes call the nine dimensions “the wellness wheel.” And if one of the dimensions is off just like a tire or a wheel, then it's not going to go round and round. And so we say within the public health realm that you have to have a well-rounded wheel. So we want to make sure that if one of your dimensions is off, what are the steps or what are the smart goals that you're going to put into place in order to work on that dimension? No one is perfect, but we all should be setting goals or, once again, seeking resources to help us to once again work on each dimension. And typically there will always be one dimension that is our strongest point and one that's typically will be our weakest area.  I often tell students, don't be alarmed if one is your growth area and sometimes one in a different season of your life, you'd be like, oh, that's my black box. I don't necessarily want to touch it. But typically in that black box area, it's maybe the area that you need the resources or the tools, and that's where you can seek out our different departments where you have experts in that field who can provide you with tools to fit into that toolkit.

Chris Nelson: Interesting. So, we're just basically, we're getting smarter about our mental health.

Sherrá Watkins: Yes. Definitely.

Chris Nelson: So, Scott, in relation to what Sherrá talked about and us getting smarter about our mental health, you're dealing with students and your counselors and team are seeing students all day long. Are you optimistic where we're headed?

Scott McAward: Yeah, that's a really good question. I'm an optimist by nature, and so I don't think I could be in this field if I wasn't. So I certainly am optimistic where we're heading. Having said that, and a lot of talk about is this a crisis we're in, is it going to resolve? Are we doing the right things to try to turn this around? I don't know if we know that quite yet, but the reality is we have a lot of work to do. I think that we need to continue to increase our support. I think we need to continue to broaden how we approach student mental health.

And really in all part of this, I think it is going to be really a shared kind of effort about where do we go as an institution, as a culture around supporting mental health.

Chris Nelson: So we've covered a lot of ground today and one of the things I've heard is that the University of Utah has a lot of resources around mental health. For a parent or a student or a loved one out there, if you could share that one resource you think all of our students should know and check out, what would it be? I'll start with you, Sherrá.

Sherrá Watkins: I would say to go to our student affairs mental health resources page. And I say that page because it has all of the resources that we just talked about today. So that way you can get a understanding of what are all the five departments and all of the different types of resources that I mentioned so that you can enter one of those different areas and make that determination. If it so happens, you enter that area and it is not the best fit, we can help coordinate you on where to go. I hate to pick an area, and that may not be the best fit, but just in case, that website has all five of our areas listed all on one page for you.

Chris Nelson: Yeah, visit the website, just see what's out there and enter the system. Scott, same question.

Scott McAward: You know, I'm going to cheat a little bit because I do think that we've mentioned a lot of great resources. Certainly, one of them is the Telus Health app, the 24/7 app. We have another app, a web-based app, called You at Utah that tries to also create a lot of resources. But I think the thing I think that's important for students and parents to understand is I think students need to find who is their trusted touchpoint on campus. And that's going to vary. So, a student living on campus, their touchpoint might be their RA or it might be someone else in housing. a graduate student may have another touchpoint. I think that developing that relationship and that trust to know that, hey, this is someone that I can go to, that I can find out what resources might be available. I think that's really key for a lot of our students.

Chris Nelson: Very good advice. Scott and Sherrá, thank you for being my guests on U Rising. That's it for today's episode of U Rising.

I'm Chris Nelson. Our executive producer is Brooke Adams and our technical producer is Robert Nelson.

And as promised before you go, here are some very important resources. You can reach the University Counseling Center at 801-581-6826. The senter's website is and the SafeUT line is 833-372-3388. SafeUT also has an app that connects you to licensed counselors, which you can find on their website Thanks for listening to U Rising.