CUNY introduces a crisis text line and plans to improve other telemental health services


Anacaona Rodriguez | The Ticker

Crystal Chunnu

CUNY expanded its mental health services by implementing virtual initiatives to assist students through their personal struggles amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first telehealth initiative is the Crisis Text Line. By texting “CUNY” to 741741, students in the United States and Canada will be immediately connected to free confidential counseling services in under five minutes. The text line is run by volunteers who are also certified counselors. They’re trained to provide support but not medical advice.

“The Crisis Text Line is just the first of many ways we are strengthening the mental health services we provide to CUNY students at a time when many are facing psychological burdens that can impede their academic success,” CUNY Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez said.

Students are in full control of the information they choose to share. The Crisis Counselor will actively listen, respond, ask questions and assist the student in understanding their feelings until the student and the Crisis Counselor feels that they are calm and safe.

Some of the areas that the text line is able to assist students in are eating disorders, election stress, anxiety, emotional abuse, coronavirus fears and depression.

For out-of-state and international students, CUNY is working on granting students access to Talkspace. Unlike the Crisis Text Line, Talkspace’s services are currently not free of charge.

Talkspace is a platform that allows users to receive therapy services from licensed counselors via text, phone call or live video chat. After taking a brief assessment, users are matched with therapists based on their preferences and Talkspace’s recommendations.

Talkspace also offers psychiatric evaluations, medication management, couples therapy and teen therapy in addition to its telehealth services.

In upcoming weeks, CUNY plans to train and certify 120 staff members across the 25 campuses in telemental health counseling through 10-hour training courses. Faculty and staff members will have access to online training through Kognito, a health simulation company that offers services to Pre-K to K12 schools, higher education institutions, healthcare facilities and non-profit organizations.

Such services include teaching individuals to build competency in improving social, emotional and physical health by conversing with virtual humans.

Acquisition of these services was prompted by findings from Healthy CUNY, a university-wide initiative that seeks to remove health-related barriers to educational achievement.

Studies done by Healthy CUNY found that students who struggle with depression and anxiety have lower grades, and the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened this situation.

Data from a Healthy CUNY survey concluded that 40% of CUNY students reported feeling nervous, anxious or on edge within the last two weeks from when they were surveyed. Likewise, at least 33% of students said they felt down, depressed or helpless, loss of interest in activities and were unable to stop worrying during the same time period.

The expansion of student mental health and wellness services were made possible by CUNY’s allocation of $5 million across its campuses, or approximately $278,000 for each of its senior and community colleges, to hire new staff, provide training to current staff and acquire new digital platforms for telemental health counseling.

These telehealth initiatives will build onto existing mental health services that CUNY students can rely on, such as 10 Minute Mind, a meditation service that sends a daily email to help students manage their stress levels, increase focus and bolster positive mindsets within 10 minutes.

Another telehealth service provided by CUNY is eCheckUp, a confidential interactive web program that allows students to track their own alcohol and marijuana consumption and receive personalized feedback on their habits and usage.

While only some campuses, like LaGuardia Community College, John Jay College, York College, Lehman College and the College of Staten Island, have access to this service, CUNY is currently working on expanding its reach.

Currently, Baruch College students have access to the Counseling Center to confidentially discuss depression, anxiety and other mental health concerns related to personal trauma, social justice issues and violence via Zoom video call. Counseling is also available in Spanish, Mandarin, Shanghainese, Arabic and Korean.

CUNY estimated that the expansion of telemental health services will allow its campuses to reach up to 40% more students through face-to-face telehealth counseling.

“It is the kind of easy-access innovation that can help students cope with the many stresses of this uncertain and isolating time,” Matos Rodriguez said.