UNM’s Mental Health Collaborative: Resources for All: UNM Newsroom
Mental health resources are expanding for UNM students thanks to a new collaboration between the Women’s Resource Center (WRC) and El Centro de la Raza. The effort is in the name: The Mental Health Collaborative (MHC).
The alliance also includes Vassar Hall on North Campus. It’s a broad reach, but a centralized purpose: to help others. This takes the form of counseling, advocacy, assistance with access to housing and food resources, and social work case management services.
“It’s not just the academic issues that people are having,” said Miquela Ortiz Upston, social worker and MHC program specialist. “Usually with academic problems, there are other problems. I really saw a need for social work on the UNM campus during my time in various positions.”
Consultancy services have always been offered through the WRC since its inception 50 years ago. The WRC has also, for many years, been a mentoring agency for students of UNM’s Masters of Counseling program who are doing their internship.
However, following student feedback over the last year, program managers recognized a need for long-term, consistent places for marginalized populations to receive culture-specific services and training in the counseling profession.
“We thought wouldn’t it be stronger if we joined forces? We wanted to create a holistic approach for this. How do two ethnic student centers work together?” Licensed Counselor and Program Coordinator Ivette Acevedo Weatherholtz said.
That’s where El Centro came in, with the help of a one-time $50,000 grant from the Department of Higher Education which enabled the establishment of a consultation room in El Centro and adequate equipment.
“We truly hope to create a safe environment for our diverse student population that meets their needs, rather than the other way around,” said Acevedo Weatherholtz.
Together, they recruited a handful of experienced graduate students enrolled in counseling and social work programs at all three locations on campus to be the rock for these students. There are also eight separate interns who provide bilingual and bicultural counseling and case management support.
“It’s really hard for minority students to access counseling services that don’t reflect their diversity,” said Acevedo Weatherholtz. “That’s why we’re attracting a lot of Black, Indigenous and Colored counselors to the training who reflect that diversity.”
She added that there is also a focus on multiculturalism, social justice and intercultural dialogue in the professional training that interns receive through the MHC.
“It’s really nice to see us opening doors and spaces to see representation in the mental health field.” – MHC Program Coordinator Ivette Acevedo Weatherholtz
As a federally designated Hispanic institution, the need for bilingual and bicultural counselors and clerks on campus has become even more apparent.
“Fringe groups have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic,” Ortiz Upston said. “I think being able to offer these services to our marginalized population is imperative.
It is also mutually beneficial, not only for those who receive help but also for those who give it. Every qualified intern not only provides bilingual assistance, counseling or social work, but also gains important experience and feedback for their career.
“The great thing about using students is that not only do we benefit from the provision of services and greater capacity, but we also provide a website for learning,” said Ortiz Upston.
Ultimately, the MHC hopes to expand collaborative partnerships to provide internship opportunities for students in additional fields and majors such as psychology.
“We hope to create an internship experience that is supportive of our students, but also provides our students with the necessary services dealing with issues such as racial trauma and gender-based violence, while also creating safe and functioning spaces to students,” said Acevedo Weatherholtz.
The MHC is currently lending an open ear to 50 students simply by providing advice. Just last spring, WRC Counseling provided over 600 clinical hours of complimentary counseling to students and staff across campus.
“We currently serve 50 students, but we serve 50 students who really, really need it,” said Acevedo Weatherholtz. “I think COVID-19 has really drawn attention to and exacerbated mental health needs.”
The new graduates in social work also worked 345 hours in the same period. They focused on helping those who need it through SNAP, EBT and Medicaid. Others are assisted in applying for insurance.
“I look at it mostly as triage,” Ortiz Upston said. “It’s really about figuring out when they walk in what services are going to benefit them in the situation they’re in?”
This semester, this total has increased to over 1,250 hours. The need, MHC leaders agree, is grim.
For those not entirely comfortable with receiving in-person assistance, there are also telemedicine options, thanks in part to a one-time $30,000 grant from the Provost’s Office.
“I think what we offer is unique. It’s bilingual services and the use of students to help with this effort,” said Ortiz Upston.
While there are other great resources like Student Health and Counseling (SHAC), she says everything offered at MHC is special and not superfluous to any other service on campus. This is mainly because the MHC services are free and therefore accessible to any student, regardless of whether they have health insurance.
“We are excited and appreciate all the work that has been done across campus in mental health and wellness,” said El Centro Director Rosa Isela Cervantes. “We look forward to expanding the work we do together and helping to meet students’ needs and support them in their academic journey and lifelong goals.”
As one of the confidential advocacy venues on campus with a long history of providing trauma mitigation in response to domestic and dating violence, sexual assault and stalking, WRC also offers counseling interns specialized training in dealing with gender-based violence.
“Advocacy is much more urgent, something difficult,” said Acevedo Weatherholtz. “Of course they need advice, but right now they really just need to do the legal stuff. They realize they have rights.”
However, it still all goes back to the counseling and the fundamental act of destigmatizing mental health care that so many on campus need. After the pandemic, they point out, there are many who need help but are stuck on waiting lists or have no way of solving their real problem.
“Many places are busy, so being able to offer these resources in different areas is critical to the well-being of students at UNM,” said Ortiz Upston. “The needs we see now are different. They were big before, but they are growing and they will continue to grow.”
While the social work component is about halfway through its pilot year, Acevedo Weatherholtz and Ortiz Upston believe they have a foundation for future investments in the years to come.
“It’s important that we have that support for a program like this to be long-lasting and sustainable, and it’s available to students who need that support,” Ortiz Upston said.
They are currently looking for other sources of funding for the long-term sustainability of this important pilot project.
“In the meantime, as we work to achieve our mission, our mission, the goals going forward, I think we’re also providing a space that’s really needed and important to destigmatize mental health,” he said Acevedo Weatherholtz.
Depending on your needs, you can contact the MHC directly. These emails are different for advisory and Social Work Services. Students can also learn more about the cooperation at the Resource Center for Women . You can also find resources at El Centro de la Raza.