Season 5 - Episode 540
Monday, October 10 is Mental Health Awareness Day, and October is traditionally one of the busiest times of year for university counseling centers across the nation. Meghan Becker serves as Director of CARE Team Services in Baylor Student Health and Wellness. In this Baylor Connections, she discusses mental health resources at Baylor and shares how students can connect with the right resources to address their needs and thrive in school and life.
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 today we are talking Mental Health. Monday, October 10th is Mental Health Awareness Day, and October is traditionally one of the busiest times of the year for university counseling centers across the nation. We're visiting today with Meghan Becker. Meghan serves as Director of Care Team Services in Baylor Student Health and Wellness. The Department of Care Team Services is a team of case managers who connect students to resources both on and off campus and offer holistic care through creating trusting relationships. Meghan Becker earned her MDiv at Baylor and has served on the staff since 2017. Meghan, really an important topic and I know you and your team do a lot of great work and looking forward to talking about that. Thanks for joining us on the program today.
Meghan Becker:Yeah. Glad to be here.
Derek Smith:Well, as we mentioned, we'll talk about the fact that Monday, October 10th, is Mental Health Awareness Day, but more broadly this time of year, the semester is really in full swing now. It's not quite the new semester anymore. There's a lot going on. What joys and challenges does this time of year bring for you and for the students you serve?
Meghan Becker:Yeah, I think some of the big challenges is the, how I say it, is the honeymoon's over. The beginnings, especially for our first year students, the beginnings, they're more... The newness has worn off, the tests are coming, the projects are coming, the realization that time management is important. All of that is coming. And so with that comes some stress, anxiety. If they've struggled in the past with those things that kind of heightens, if they haven't, sometimes that happens. And so I would say some of the joys are that they're at college and they're having a great time, but the stressors or the challenges are just the stress that they are under with academics, socially, and then add any sort of mental health struggle with that and it just becomes a super stressful time for our students. And so with that, is the same for us. The joys are getting to work with students who are struggling and seeing them get connected to resources that will help them deal with their mental health struggles. But then also just the challenge for us is meeting the needs of all the students that are coming our way.
Derek Smith:A lot of great resources that students are taking advantage of as we'll talk about. Monday is Mental Health Awareness Day. And this is a topic, for you and your team, it's a 365 day a year sort of thing. But this time of year, what does it mean to you all to see that increased focus and attention being paid to mental health?
Meghan Becker:Like you said, we do think about this all the time, and so for us it is... Mental health is such an evolving topic, even just five years ago, the stigma has decreased so much. And I think that just the fact that we're talking about Mental Health Awareness Day, shows that we are paying attention to the fact that this is a very real thing. It's a real thing that our students are dealing with every single day. Sometimes it's not easy to talk about, it's not fun to talk about, but it is very real. And so for us, it validates what we see in the lives of our students every day, but it also helps us to know that other folks are noticing the importance of us paying attention to mental health and the fact that that is what our students are dealing with as we talk about it.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Meghan Becker of Care Team Services at Baylor. And zooming out a little bit, Care Team Services, how would you describe that to people who aren't familiar with it?
Meghan Becker:Yeah, sure. I say often I have an elevator speech that I give, but we really are a team of people who care deeply about students, who like to connect students to resources that are available to them. So we are not the counseling Center, we are our own department. And the way that I describe it is that Care Team Services reaches out to students, and the Counseling Center receives students in. And so we get referrals, which I'll talk about later, but we get referrals from faculty, staff, other students or students themselves coming, saying, "Hey, I need help." And then we listen to their situation and then connect them with different resources on campus.
Derek Smith:We've had the pleasure of visiting with some of your colleagues on the show before, be it Dr. Jim Marsh, Dominique Hill, all these different areas, but it's interesting to see how that works together. What does that teamwork look like when you think about Student Health and Wellness, what you do with them even a little further?
Meghan Becker:Yeah, we certainly cannot do our job in a silo. We just can't. We can't do our jobs alone, because we are a department who connects students to offices all over campus. So in Student Health and Wellness, those partnerships are very strong and very important, especially the Counseling Center, the Health Center, are the two main ones that we connect with, but we cannot work in a silo. And so in Student Health and Wellness, we work really hard to break down those walls, to have relationships with each other, but also to create those relationships for the students so that they can get the help that they need.
Derek Smith:Meghan, you talk about you get referrals, you meet students where they are in a lot of cases. What are some of the resources that you and your team utilize to help students connect or to connect with them?
Meghan Becker:Yeah. Well, the main one I would say is the Counseling Center, not just the Counseling Center, the in person, but also Academic Live Care, which is the new telehealth initiative that Baylor adopted about a year ago. I think it was a year ago, October, which provides telehealth options for students, both here and abroad and all over the country as well. But so the Counseling Center is one. We also use psychiatry in the Health Center. Baylor has a psychiatrist and a psychiatric nurse practitioner that we help connect students to. Academic support in CASE, the Center for Academic and Student Engagement. Academic support, tutoring. Spiritual life, sometimes students will just need that chaplain type connection. If a student's having a hard time connecting with Baylor, we connect them to Student Activities and the things that they have going on. The OLA office, the Office of Disability Services is another partnership, we work closely with. Campus Living and Learning is someone who we receive a lot of referrals from, but we often partner with them to make sure students have someone that they know in the residence halls that they can connect with. And so the resources and the connections we have, like you said, I came in 2017 and that's what I have worked really hard to create, is these connections all over campus, so we know how to send students to those resources.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Meghan Becker of Care Team Services. You mentioned telehealth, I know Baylor's really expanded in that area. How much has that been utilized and how good of an addition has that been to the, I guess, the repertoire of resources that you offer?
Meghan Becker:Yeah, I don't know the exact numbers. I just know that a lot of students are using it. I think the Counseling Center, about 2,600 in person students. And then the Academic Live Care or the telehealth option, I'm pretty sure was about 900 students that used that last year. So students are using that as an option. And so it's great for us because we say to a student, "Hey, you can meet with a counselor in person two weeks out, or we have this Academic Live Care option which could meet with someone today or tomorrow." So it's excellent for students who really want to meet with someone quickly.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Meghan Becker. And Meghan, you're dealing with students at a pivotal time in an individual's life. For you and your team, what is it about this age group that particularly makes it meaningful to do what you do?
Meghan Becker:Yeah, I think that they are... College students are at such an impressionable time, right? 18 to 22, research shows us, that 18 to 22 year olds are really in this open armed, here's my life, kind of situation. And so with that comes challenges, celebrations, and so as we work with students who are dealing with challenges, as we connect them to the resources and they get the help that they need, we really get to see the change that happens. And the change that happens is, "I think I can do this." And we really tell students, "You might be dealing with something that's difficult, but this does not define the rest of your life." And so to get to speak into those things and say to a student, "This does not define who you are." And watch that happen and watch them live that out is really fulfilling.
Derek Smith:This is a broad question, but thinking specifically here in 2022, what are the challenges students are facing these days? I think that when I think back to my own college career in the late '90s and early 2000s, there were challenges, but I think in my mind, it seems like almost like a simpler time in some ways. Broadly, how would you describe that?
Meghan Becker:Yeah. I think the biggest thing, the biggest referral that we see is for anxiety, depression, and stress. But I think too, a couple things. The pandemic did not help anybody's mental health, and so we have seen a great increase in students' mental health struggles coming out of the pandemic. So that is one thing that we have noticed is that students really struggled with the isolation, the stress. But then just this generation in general, deals with a lot more pressure than generations before. There's just a lot more academic pressure. There's a lot more extracurricular pressure. And so because of that, the stress and pressure increases. So with that comes some anxiety and stress, and so it's figuring out ways to balance all of that for these students.
Derek Smith:You mentioned earlier, Meghan, that a lot of the stigma is removed from mental health issues and questions, and it certainly seems like that there's a lot more attention paid, more awareness, more acceptance, but from your standpoint, how would you describe that? How have the collective we, if you would, how have we improved and where can we see more improvement?
Meghan Becker:Yeah. I think that we have improved by having things like Mental Health Awareness Day and just recognizing that not all students come to Baylor and have a wonderful experience, but some of them are really dealing with significant mental health struggles. And so just recognizing that and claiming that. It's a hard topic to talk about. If you think about physical health and mental health, it's really easy to talk about reconstructive knee surgery, but it's very difficult to talk about crippling anxiety or crippling depression. And so just engaging in the conversations about this, is really one way to decrease the stigma. I also call it the practice of paying attention, that not just those of us who work in the field of mental health, we're not the only ones who need to pay attention, but it's everybody that interacts with students, just to pay attention. Is something a little bit off? Is the student expressing themselves in unusual ways? But I think the collective we, can do just that, is to pay attention and to normalize it. If somebody expresses that they're struggling with anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, just to say, "Okay, let's get you some help that you need," and to walk alongside them, instead of saying, "Oh, I don't know what to do with that. Have a good day." But really choosing to walk alongside with the journey with those students.
Derek Smith:This is Baylor Connections. We are visiting with Meghan Becker, Director of Care Team Services in Baylor Student Health and Wellness. Let's talk again about students connecting with you. Sounds like there's a number of channels by which you might find out about a student or they might find out about you. What are some of those channels?
Meghan Becker:Yeah, yeah, that's a good question. So we do have a Report It website. At Baylor, it's called baylor.edu/reportit, and there is a button that people can push and it says Care Team. And there you can say, "You know what, I was talking with so and so and he expressed that he was really struggling with anxiety and didn't know who to turn to for help." And so then we would get that referral and we would reach out to the student. We have a three reach out system. We email the student twice and then send them a text trying to get them to come into our office. And so that's one way we get referrals. Another way is through just faculty and staff relationships. If a faculty member has a student in their class and they say, "I'm missing class a lot because I'm struggling with depression, or I'm struggling to get out of bed," then that faculty member would send us the referral or the note and we would then reach out to that student. One of our greatest referral resources is Campus Living and Learning. The students who are living in the residence halls that as they're living in community, sometimes they will have difficult situations come up or they will express to their community leader or their residence hall director that they're struggling. And so then the residence hall director will send that referral to us and we will be able to reach out to them. And sometimes vice versa, if we have a student who lives in the residence halls and we know that, we can reach out to the residence halls and say, "Hey, we just met with so and so. Can you have someone in the halls check on them?" We have an email address firstname.lastname@example.org, which people can send referrals to, and then our phone number is (254) 710-2100. Students, faculty and staff, and parents, we get a lot of parent phone calls who say, worried about their children and not sure what to do. And so we reach out to them in that way. And so again, as we have this culture of paying attention or this awareness that there's Care Team Services who can help these students get connected, it takes the pressure off of the faculty and the staff to have to be the one to figure out where to send them. And we just say, "Send them to us." And we will figure out what resources are most beneficial for the student.
Derek Smith:That's great. As you get to know this student, what's that... I know you a lot come through your office, but there's that personal connection you make. What's that like?
Meghan Becker:Yeah. We are, and I didn't mention this, but there is a team of my... It's myself and three other case managers, and we are all people who care deeply about students. And so what that connection is like, is just getting to know them as a person at first. Asking them about their schoolwork and where they're from? What they're studying? Are they living off campus, on campus? Creating that personal connection first so that we will be able to get to talk about the deeper, more difficult topics to discuss. And so we express that we're not mental health professionals, but that we are folks who work in that area to connect them to resources. So we're not clinicians. We tell them that, and then we just say, "Tell me what's going on and let's see how I can help you." And students are very willing to open up to us about the things that they're struggling with, because students really do, when they get to our office, they really do want help. And so we then listen and we might connect them to the store if they're struggling with food insecurity or the Counseling Center or Academic Support. And what we say is, research shows that life outside the classroom does greatly impact a student's life inside the classroom. And so if we can get them connected to all of the things that they need help with outside the classroom, it will be much easier for them to focus on their schoolwork. So it's really important for us to create a warm, welcoming, caring environment when we connect with students, so that we can connect them to the resources that they need to help them to be successful.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Meghan Becker. And Meghan, tell me about your team briefly, if you would. Sounds like you got a great team there at Care Team Services.
Meghan Becker:Yeah, we do have a great team. It's myself and then I'm the director of Care Team Services, and then we have three case managers. Trenia Cooper is one of the case managers. She's been here about six years. And Shannon Farquhar-Caddell has been here about three years. And then our newest addition to the team is Jazmine Reed. She is a Baylor graduate and did her internship with us, and then we were able to hire her on full time. We do love students and we love each other as well. And so we have learned that with the hard work that we do, we have to have a strong team in order to support students
Derek Smith:Visiting with Meghan Becker. And Meghan, the broad question, you said you get questions from parents and others, whether they're on campus or off. Obviously if they're on campus, they can send them to you, but if there's someone that people care about that they think is struggling, maybe struggling with mental health, it can be hard to know exactly what to do, how to approach it. Do you have any general thoughts or approach just for, I think, almost us lay people, if you would, who might find that and want to address it in a healthy way?
Meghan Becker:Yeah, that's a great question because it is so prevalent, and I think the first thing is to just listen and to offer that listening ear and just reflect back and say, "You know what? I noticed that you are struggling with getting out of bed. Is that something that you are dealing with? Tell me more about that." Just asking questions and listening. And then as they share more, you can just say, "I know Baylor has a lot of great resources on this campus." But so often students won't share something that they're dealing with if they're not in relationship or if they don't feel like it's a brave space or a space that they can express themselves. And so just being a person that they know that that they can go to, but then also knowing what the resources are. And so just saying, "You know what, it sounds like you're really struggling. Would you come with me to Care Team Services? Would it be okay if I referred you to Care Team Services? There are some great people on campus who care about students and want to connect students to resources. Let's do that together." Just to make sure that that student that you know is struggling, just to make sure that they don't feel like they're alone and that they know that there are people here. And so if you love someone who is struggling, the best thing that you can do is to get them connected to resources with folks who can help them.
Derek Smith:That's great. Visiting with Meghan Becker on the program, and Meghan, as we wind down, this mental health services at Baylor Counseling Service has grown a lot, certainly since you've been here in 2017. As you look ahead on the horizon, what excites you either about the growth that's taking place, the way more students are taking advantage of these resources? What encourages you and what are you looking forward to seeing more ways to serve students?
Meghan Becker:Yeah, that's a good question. There was one person who came here in the 20... She was here for about four or five years prior to me, but she was just one case manager. And the year before I came, she had about 560 students. And last year we served, we had 2,000, over 2,000. 2,500 referrals last year. And so the needs are increasing. Our team has increased. We've become a department. But what excites me is that in Student Health and Wellness, we're not only focusing on how to help students get help and get connected, but maybe starting some prevention initiatives with teaching students resiliency and what are some things that we can do early on to help give them the skills that might be helpful for them. But then also recognizing that our numbers are not going to get any smaller. But with that, it just gives us more opportunity to serve more students. And we are grateful for the opportunity that we have. And I think the exciting part is just that Baylor is increasing their services, but also moving in this direction towards prevention and resiliency.
Derek Smith:Well, that's great. Well, Meghan, thank you so much for your time and Mental Health Awareness Day affords us the opportunity to say thanks to you and your team and your colleagues who all play into the mental health space in some form or another.
Meghan Becker:Yeah. Thank you. We're grateful for what we do.
Derek Smith:Thank you. Meghan Becker, Director of Care Team Services in Baylor Student Health and Wellness, our guest today on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith. A reminder, you can hear this and other programs online, baylor.edu/connections, and you can subscribe to the program on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.