Help students connect with off-campus mental health care

Expert Insight

Help students connect with off-campus mental health care

Most campus counseling centers are not well-equipped to serve students who require ongoing, specialized, or intensive services, such as medication management or long-term therapeutic engagements. When the needs of students go beyond the scope of campus resources, institutions should help students connect with off-campus care.

Financial or logistical barriers prevent many students from connecting with an off-campus provider. See below for strategies that can increase the likelihood that students are able to successfully connect with the care they need

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This resource is part of the Maximize Counseling Center Operations and Efficiency Roadmap. Access the Roadmap for stepwise guidance with additional tools and research.

Leverage administrative support to assist transitions to off-campus care

Southern Methodist University established a Health Services Assistant (HSA) to ease students’ transition to off-campus mental health care. The HSA was an administrative support professional already on staff, not a specialized new hire, who wanted to do more direct work with students. When students receive an off-campus referral, they briefly meet with the HSA to review their options and identify next steps. The HSA maintains a suite of tools, such as a list of available providers and community transit schedules, that can make it easier for students to connect with a provider.

Establishing an Health Services Assistant (HSA) at your institution is a low-lift approach to connecting more students with community providers because it does not require additional staff or expertise. Guidance from the HSA will also help students better understand the referral process and facilitate a quicker connection between students and community providers.

Increase successful hand-offs to off-campus care through a referral coordination program

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s (UNC Chapel Hill) Referral Coordination Program highlights another way to streamline the off-campus referral process for students. When students receive an off-campus referral at UNC, they are automatically scheduled for a 30-minute appointment with a referral coordinator. The appointment generally occurs three to seven days after the initial referral. During the appointment, a social worker or trained intern will facilitate a personalized discussion with the student about initiating off-campus mental health care. The discussion might include activities around mapping out a transportation plan, locating a student’s insurance card, or calling a provider to make the first appointment.

One to two weeks after the referral coordination appointment, the coordinator will check in with the student via phone or email to ensure that a successful connection was made and troubleshoot any new challenges or concerns. Students are also asked to complete a short survey about their satisfaction with the program and their new off-campus mental health care provider. Using data from this survey, UNC Chapel Hill found that students who meet with a referral coordinator are 2.5x more likely to connect with an off-campus provider than students who do not.

A key component to promoting successful off-campus care is implementing referral mechanisms that help ensure continuity of care. These mechanisms facilitate students’ connection to off-campus mental health care by helping them navigate their insurance, find qualifying providers, schedule appointments, and secure transportation.

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