UNT faculty and staff face decreased access to university-led mental health services typically offered to students, drawing calls for enhanced support systems among UNT employees.
Faculty and staff are eligible for emergency mental health services provided by UNT through the CARE Team, but to access long-term mental healthcare, employees must look to insurance and personal health plans.
The CARE Team addresses instances where an individual’s behavior may become a “harm to self, others, and the larger UNT community,” according to the service’s website.
“It is a way to assess situations quickly and get the appropriate professionals engaged to help,” Vice Provost for Student Success Michael McPherson said in an email. “That is, the CARE Team doesn’t itself provide the care. Rather, it pulls in mental health professionals, Human Resources, law enforcement and others as circumstances require.”
McPherson said CARE Team cases involving faculty are “quite rare,” and data of the number of CARE team incidents is protected under federal law, but UNT President Neal Smatresk said the team has recently addressed a growing number of faculty and staff.
“We’re getting a lot of CARE Team requests,” Smatresk said. “Like, maybe five full more than typically, because people are so concerned by various mental health challenges that their colleagues might be having. A lot of these shouldn’t be elevated to CARE Team level. But once they are, the CARE Team feel they have no choice but to respond.”
The increase in CARE Team requests has led the service to review and revise what constitutes a proper CARE Team referral, Smatresk said.
At the UNT Faculty Senate’s October meeting, faculty members and Smatresk discussed the mental health resources available to university employees, and the president clarified how they could access mental health services outside of UNT.
“We do not provide faculty mental health resources, we provide student mental health resources,” Smatresk said. “Students pay a fee to support that activity. Faculty don’t. We have lists of providers through insurance that faculty can go to for that support.”
During the discussion, criminal justice associate professor Scott Belshaw responded, saying mental health issues faced by individual staff members have the potential to affect their colleagues around them.
Belshaw referenced the suicide of a TWU professor in September to demonstrate the importance of mental health initiatives among employees, and said he knew of other instances of faculty suicides.
In a later interview, Belshaw expanded on his comments and said his job as a professor sometimes brings out personal anxieties that mental health programs could address.
“I want people, when they come here, to believe that somebody here cares about them,” Belshaw said. “Is that asking for so much? … You see issues of faculty suicides or faculty with depression problems. A lot of it could be nipped in the bud [at UNT] rather than taking it home. You don’t want this place to make it worse.”
University administrators may launch new mental health programs for faculty in the coming weeks, according to tweets from Belshaw and Smatresk referencing “new resources,” but they could not provide further details at the time of publication.
Featured Image: The CARE Team office is located on the fourth floor in the UNT Union. Image by Theophilus Bowie