Season 5 - Episode 514
Supporting mental health and wellness is a priority at Baylor, with numerous resources available for students. In this Baylor Connections, Dr. Jim Marsh, Dean of Student Health and Wellness, examines the challenges students face and shares the heart behind programs designed to meet their mental and physical health needs.
Derek Smith:Hello, and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week, we go in-depth with Baylor leaders, professors and more discussing important topics in higher education, research and student life. I'm Derek Smith. And our guest today is Dr. Jim Marsh. Dr. Marsh serves as dean of student health and wellness and executive director for the counseling services at Baylor. Overseeing departments within Baylor student life that meet the physical and emotional wellness needs of students. Counseling services, campus rec, care team services, health services and wellness. A licensed psychologist, Dr. Marsh came to Baylor in 1999 and has led Baylor counseling services for nearly two decades, expanding his role to Dean in 2019. I know it's a busy time for you and your team throughout the year, and as we approach the hard to believe, the end of a semester before too long, appreciate you taking the time to join us Dr. Marsh. Thanks so much for coming on.
Jim Marsh:Oh, thank you, Derek. It's glad to be here and glad to talk about what we're doing in student health and wellness.
Derek Smith:Well, you've got a great team, a very team that does a lot of work that covers the gamut as we'll talk about here. And let's just sort of define, we're going to talk about health and wellness a little bit. Those are two words that I think most of us sort of intuitively feel like we understand, but our definitions might fail to cover what it is that you mean. We talk about the breadth of their impact. So what do we talk about when we talk about health and wellness individually or collectively?
Jim Marsh:Right. And that's a great question. I really see a shift more to the term wellness and using that term more broadly. But I'll explain how we conceptualize that in student health and wellness. I think the word health tends to be more associated with physical and mental health and is often associated with the absence of illness, is tied to the word health. Wellness though is a broader term. And it's a term that we're seeing a lot more in universities. It tends to include not just the physical and the mental/emotional health, but it also includes other dimensions such as social, relational, spiritual, even financial or career. And some, particularly at a place like Baylor, we might even add in the idea of meaning or purpose in life as a concept of wellness.
Derek Smith:How much do those two words, how similar are they, how unique are they on their own in terms of the work you do?
Jim Marsh:Yeah. So when we think about the work that is done in student health and wellness, so this is the health center, it's the counseling center, it's the wellness department, it's care team and campus recreation. I mean, think of the student life center, right? And so basically everything in there is student health and wellness. I think of our collective program, all those departments together, operating on these two axis. And the X axis if you want to call it, we'll call it the intervention axis. And it ranges from what I call prevention all the way to restoration. And then on the Y axis, it really represents kind of this range of intensity. A lot of our programs, we might consider low intensity. But we have other programs that we can consider high intensity. Right? So for example, when we think about those five departments they're not just five distinct departments.
Jim Marsh:Now they're very strong departments in and of themselves, and they've been that way for many years. But when you really look at those five departments, there's a lot of overlap. And so I think about the overlap really occurring in five areas. And that kind of first one, which is more in that maybe lower intensity, more prevention focus is health education, outreach and prevention. So you're going to see our suicide prevention programs, mental health, first aid, wellness coaches, well departments, education on mental health, relationships, sleep, nutrition, things like that. And then a step up would be what might be health enhancing activities, self care which is going to be your exercise, your intramural, your club sports, outdoor adventure, fit well for all, things like that. And then as it moves up, there's a middle level there which is student support and community. We have the BARC programs, which is a great place of community for students in recovery.
Jim Marsh:We have recovery housing, care team services, outdoor adventure and really many students find a sense of community. Find a sense of belonging through campus recreation. I know that was a big part of a community in my life when I was an undergrad, was participating in intramural sports and campus recreation. And it is an area that we're really trying to lean into, to help students develop community and develop very quickly, especially as freshman arrive. And then you move to that higher end, right? Which is more toward restoration or maybe the intensity picks up a bit. And that's going to be your direct healthcare services, which is going to be counseling, primary care, psychiatry, medical nutrition therapy, physical therapy. And now we've added a program, telehealth by academic life care.
Jim Marsh:And then that fifth level would be our crisis response. And which is a big part of what we do, which is an important part of what we do for students. It's been a growing area, but that's going to be our care team. It's going to be students who've been placed under our policy on threat or harm to themselves or others. We do have times where students through the counseling center or the health center need to be hospitalized. And so that's that highest level of what we do.
Derek Smith:Well, thank you for giving us that visualization as we think through the different services that you offer as we visit with Dr. Jim marsh. And Dr. Jim marsh, as we talk about these more, I want to ask a little bit more, this is a broad question. But maybe it's when you get a lot. In the spring of 22, how are students doing? What are you seeing? What's sort of the assessment on a broad level you would give and what are the needs and opportunities that present for you and your team to try to meet in a time like this?
Jim Marsh:Well, I think our students are like students all across the country. COVID has created challenges. It's created isolation for our students in some ways, a lack of community. There's certainly a number of our students have experienced personal and family loss, financial challenges. Maybe they were seeking mental health care, but that was postponed or paused during the pandemic. There's some evidence that suggests that the online education that they've been a part of for the last two years. I mean it's not a blanket statement, but it's probably not all been the same for every student. So it's left them at times maybe less prepared. If you look at the data from the end of February, so for of this year, we've had over 1800 students that they've worked with. Well, that's about a 10% increase over last year and we've got three months to go.
Jim Marsh:Right. So we've seen that area continue to grow. Counseling as of the end of late part of March over 2,500 students, that's 19% higher than our previous high, which was pre COVID in 2018, 2019. And the health center, our primary care mental health appointments, they're closing in on about 1700, which that's about 7% higher than the previous high. So from a data standpoint, I think you see that students are definitely taking advantage of what we have here. And we have really great robust services at the university. So I think COVID has impacted all of us in different ways. When I think about this, I'm reminded that our faculty and staff, all of us, even the two of us have been impacted by COVID in some different ways. And I'm just thankful that we have the resources to respond to our students and to support them and help them be successful in the classroom.
Derek Smith:I noticed you mentioned telehealth there. That's maybe one way you answer to this, but how have you and your staff worked to keep up with that demand? You've got increasing breadth of services and increasing numbers as well.
Jim Marsh:Well, something that really helped was telehealth. And if you go back to about a year ago, and we were looking at just reading the literature, listening to different speakers, we knew that there was this coming kind of as we started to emerge out of COVID and come back to the university, we knew that there was going to be an increase. I mean, everyone was predicting a surge, if you will. We knew we couldn't manage that surge in the way we wanted to. And we also knew that we couldn't have heard this phrase hire our way out, right? So we had to really think differently a paradigm shift, if you will, about how we went about this. So we began the process of looking for a third party telehealth provider and we have a partnership with AHP or Academic Health Plan. That's the same company that provides our student insurance.
Jim Marsh:And what we've been able to do is provide on the medical side, virtual urgent care psychiatry and nutrition services, it's all free to students and it's all unlimited. So no session limits. And then on the counseling side, we've been able to add a 24/7 support line and counseling again completely free, completely unlimited. And what we really like about it, is that it's able to do some things that we've just not been able to do. We're open eight to five. You can have appointments in the evenings, weekends when the university is closed, it's available to students who are aren't here on campus. They could be our nursing students up in Dallas. We've got some graduate students down in Houston, our EMBA programs.
Jim Marsh:I think I heard somewhere that 40% or more of our graduate student population is now online. So anywhere they are, our Baylor in DC, Baylor in Washington. So those students now have access to basically the same level of service that students do here at brick and mortar, which was an important goal. And actually from an accreditation standpoint, it was a goal for us as well.
Derek Smith:We are visiting with Dr. Jim marsh, Dean of student health and wellness and executive director for counseling services at Baylor. Talking to about student health and wellbeing. And you've been here for the better part of two decades and you've seen these resources grow over the years. What trends are you seeing that may have been especially valuable? I think you just described one. Were there any other trends worth mentioning or areas of growth that Baylor has been proactive in enhancing over the years that have been especially valuable lately?
Jim Marsh:Well, there's different data that we look at. When we look at our own Baylor data have tracked this for years. So we look at that, we look at also what's happening nationally and the national data and some of the comparison. And then I'm always interested in what's going on with our generation of students, right? And I think from a trend standpoint, we've already talked about how there's been an increase in the demand and the request for services. I think that's a good thing. There's a lot of good about that. I think students are more open. I think there's less stigma. I think they're more concerned and wanting to take care of themselves physically and mentally.
Jim Marsh:I think some of the other trends that we've looked at really comes from this generation of students, right? Our gen Z students. And so I could talk for a long time about this one, but a few things that we're aware of, again, this is broad stroke but this is a very high academic achieving generation of students. As parents we've prepared them well, they've got record setting GPAs and SAT and ACT scores, parents of which I'm one. I guess I'm a gen X parent, right. Which is typically the parent of a gen Z student. And the data says that even though it's a generation that's been hit the hardest financially, parents have doubled down on education to prepare their students. There are a few other things that are interesting that we have to keep in mind as a younger generation in some ways. So when you look at all these markers of growth and maturity and you compare them to past generation, so you have things like, when did you get your driver's license, right?
Jim Marsh:Did you have a job in high school? And then there's these other markers, time spent with friends versus time spent with parents. What we find is that on average gen Z is younger. And so Dr. Twenge, she talks about one of her statements is that an 18 year old gen Z is the equivalent of a 15 year old millennial. So they're just younger in some ways. And I think that's just something that we have to be mindful of and to be thoughtful about. And then I don't fault them, this is the culture that they're raised in and it's been reinforced in some ways.
Derek Smith:Yeah, this is fascinating. We could probably do a whole show talking about these generational differences and working with them as teachers and faculty and employers. And otherwise, as we visit with Dr. Jim marsh, dean of student health and wellness and executive director for counseling services at Baylor. Let's go through those a little bit. Each of them starting with wellness, what would people find if they started diving into the programs within wellness?
Jim Marsh:Yeah. If they started diving they're going to find first of all, they're going to be aware of the BARC, our Beauchamp Addiction Recovery Center, and the support that we have for students who are in recovery. The community that we offer there, they're going to find fitness and nutrition, most people know Van Davis. And so Van Davis has been working in that area. They're also going to find a lot of the education and outreach that we do with students around traditional health related issues. But also we've been doing more mental health types of outreaches there such as the mental health first aid.
Derek Smith:That's great. What about the counseling center? I mean, maybe that's obvious to some people, I want to ask you about that.
Jim Marsh:Well, the counseling center again, a very robust counseling center, we provide individual couples, group therapy, do a lot of education and outreach. Probably one of the things that most people don't know is that we're a pretty large training facility. We train, we see it as part of our mission that we train graduate students. So we have a four doctoral students in higher education, I mean, in counseling who are there. We have a number of practicum students from our Saudi program, we have social work interns and we actually also have an intern from UMHB. So we have a pretty robust training program that we do.
Derek Smith:That's great. Now you mentioned the care team earlier, anything to add there?
Jim Marsh:We just have four great staff members led by Megan Becker, who's doing a great job. And when we look at the data, that area has just grown every year and probably some of the unsung heroes, right, of the division. They are the ones who spend day in day out working with students, helping students that are challenged by a number of things. It might be academics, might be family issues, it might be finances, it might be food insecurity. It could be any number of things and they help connect them to the right resources. And again, they're probably closing in, we're projecting, they'll work with over 2000 students by the end of the semester.
Derek Smith:What about health services?
Jim Marsh:Right, the health center. The health center, they have Dr. Stern and her team, they do an outstanding job. And I think for a lot of the years, really all the years I've been here, they've just been behind the scenes, taking care of students and their health needs. And with COVID it really put them as someone said, the tip of the spear. They were front and center, working with students, testing, we think about students in isolation, students who are in quarantine. And I think it's important that everyone listening really understands and knows how much the health center stepped up for the university these last two years. I mean, it was pretty close to a 24/7 operation. It really was.
Jim Marsh:We had the amount of testing that we did. Those test results don't just come in at one o'clock every day, right? They come in all throughout the day. And they would come in even late in the day, at night and on the weekends. And those are health issues, right? Somebody had to work, somebody had to respond and do what was needed for those students. So I think it's important that people know that our health center has really worked around the clock for a good while now. And I think they're a big part of why we're in the position we are at this moment.
Derek Smith:That's great. Absolutely well deserve recognition. And other needs don't just stop just because we're in COVID either.
Jim Marsh:Right. People still get the flu, people still have other things, respiratory infections of different types. You're right.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. And what about campus rec? I know a lot of holistic offerings there in campus rec.
Jim Marsh:There's really a lot there when you think about... Most people probably think primarily about the student life center and the workout facilities, the racquetball, basketball, but a very robust intramural program. And we've really looked at intramurals as a way to bring connection in community. We've changed some things there from a competition standpoint to really get more students involved and have some competition between residence halls, outdoor venture, some of the trips they go on for spring break, the marina club sports. I mean, there's a lot there that students can get involved in.
Jim Marsh:And we really see it as a key part of how students can be healthy and they can be well. And we do think about how can we get more students involved in not just the traditional campus rec intramural sports' kind of ways? It's not just for your former high school athlete. They've really tried to lean into what are some programs we can do to maybe involve students who maybe didn't play sports in high school, but they want to be active, they want to have competition, they want to be with their friends. And so they've done a really good job of rethinking, retooling some of the things they're doing.
Derek Smith:Well, that's great. As we head into the last couple of minutes on the program, I want to ask you, you just mentioned all of those. What's most enjoyable to you about seeing to you and your team about being able to tie these different threads together and see them work together? Particularly, as you said as we move from kind of the pandemic to endemic hopefully in the weeks ahead.
Jim Marsh:Well, part of what's most enjoyable is I've got a great team and a great group of directors that I worked with them for a long time before I was dean. And so when I moved into dean, I just continued it in another way. But just an outstanding, hardworking, committed group that will do whatever we can to get it done. I think the exciting part for me has been thinking about how all five departments now work together to accomplish some goals, right? As I mentioned, five very strong departments in and of themselves, but now what is it that we have in common? And how can we harness the resources of these five departments to start to move some initiatives forward that will improve the lives of our students. I mentioned earlier, that kind of conceptualization of here's our... From prevention to restoration and our levels of intensity.
Jim Marsh:One of the things we're thinking about and we're going to be doing here in the future, is really thinking about that part of the quadrant that's focused on prevention. All our numbers keep going up. What can we do to help students when they arrive at Baylor University and there's different words, right? Be resilient, cope, thrive. Certainly a Baylor word that we're talking about these days is flourish. What can we do on that end of that scale to really improve the lives of our students? And that's the exciting part that we're just now starting to lean into.
Derek Smith:Well, look forward to seeing that in the months and years ahead. And in the meantime, we want to commend your staff as well for the great work. You mentioned the unsung heroes with the health services I know that's the case for a lot of people within your department. So thanks so much for taking the time to come and share with us today.
Jim Marsh:Thank you, Derek.
Derek Smith:Dr. Jim Marsh, dean of student health and wellness and executive director for counseling services at Baylor, our guest today on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith. Reminder, you can hear this on the programs online at baylor.edu/connections. And you can subscribe on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.