KALAMAZOO, MI – Western Michigan University will expand its health care support network in the fall semester of 2022.

The UWill program offers mental health counseling via video, phone or social media. The service is also available after 5pm and on weekends.

“There are times when people struggle that are not the times you would think,” said Diane Anderson, WMU’s Vice President for Student Affairs. “So having this group of people available and available all the time I think it’s going to be accessible.”

WMU is the third Michigan college to partner with UWill through the Michigan Association of State Universities (MASU). WMU’s partnership with UWill will begin on Aug. 15 and is paid for through the Empowering Futures Gift, a $500 million donation to the university.

“Michigan State, the University of Michigan and Western Michigan University have all signed on because we like what they have to offer,” Anderson said. “We wanted to take a closer look at them and what we found, we liked.”

The need for strong mental health support is one that students advocate for. The Western Student Association partnered with WMU administrators and other campus groups to host a mental health conference in 2020.

At the meeting, fourth-year resident supervisor Jack Reeves took the opportunity to share why mental health services are needed, especially in homes.

“Ultimately, it’s our responsibility to take care of the needs of students,” Reeves said. “And there are times when that involves helping people with mental health issues as best we can.”

During the 2021-22 academic year, about 1,450 students sought counseling at the Sindecuse Heath Center, according to university spokeswoman Paula Davis.

Sindecuse employs 12 counselors who see students with a background in social studies, counseling and psychology. Students may also seek counseling at the Centers for Counseling and Psychological Services within the Department of Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology, although services provided by the department are not limited to WMU students.

Reeves said that while the help of a resident manager can be helpful, it doesn’t compare to what can be provided through professionals.

Anderson emphasized that UWill connects students with a variety of counselors who can meet the needs of the students and their demographics.

“A lot of times people want to talk to someone they’re comfortable with and that can be gender based, it can be race based, it can be LGBTQ based, whatever,” Anderson said. “There’s going to be a lot of student voting that I think is going to be good.”

In the past few years, efforts to engage in inclusive dialogue have become a priority for students, Reeves said, and it is important to include things that are contributing to “advocacy and cultural change.”

“Obviously this has gotten a lot of attention in the last few years and where it’s combined with isolation and health concerns it’s always been a concern,” Reeves said.

Anderson said UWill services will be available directly to students through an app that will be available in August. The project will also include a “career model” the university is using to assess how best to address student mental health needs.

“There are counselors who are counselors at the counseling center and they will test with students to find out what the student needs,” Anderson said. “That student might not need help. That student might need to go work with a nutritionist or that student might need to talk to an academic advisor. We don’t know until we find out what the student needs.”

As the school year draws to a close, Anderson said the university will start marketing to make sure students know about the new product and how to get it.

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