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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 wide reach, but a centralized purpose: helping others. This takes the form of counseling, advocacy, assistance with accessing housing and food resources, and social work case management services.

“It’s not just the academic problems that people are having,” said Miquela Ortiz Upston, social worker and MHC program specialist. “Usually when there are academic issues, there are other issues going on. I really saw a need for social work on the UNM campus during my time in various positions.”

Counseling services have always been offered by the WRC since its establishment 50 years ago. WRC has also been a supervising site for many years for students in UNM’s Masters of Counseling program completing their internships.

However, after student feedback over the past year, program managers recognized a need for long-term, consistent venues for marginalized populations to receive culturally specific services and training in the counseling profession.

“We thought, wouldn’t it be more powerful if we joined forces? We wanted to create a holistic approach to it. 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 Higher Education Department which provided for the establishment of a counseling space at El Centro and proper equipment.

“We really hope to create a safe environment for our diverse student population that accommodates their needs instead of the other way around,” Acevedo Weatherholtz said.

Together, they recruited a handful of experienced graduate students, enrolled in counseling and social work programs, to be the rock for these students, at all three locations on campus. There are also eight separate interns who provide bilingual and bicultural counseling and case management assistance.

“It’s really hard for minority students to seek counseling services that don’t reflect their diversity,” Acevedo Weatherholtz said. “We therefore attract many black, indigenous and colored counselors in training who do 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 neat 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-serving institution, the need for bilingual and bicultural counselors and caseworkers on campus has become even more apparent.

“Marginalized populations have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic,” said Ortiz Upston. “I think it is essential to be able to provide these services for our marginalized population.

It is also mutually beneficial, not only for those who receive help, but for those who give it. Each qualified intern not only provides bilingual assistance, counseling or social work, but also gains crucial experience and feedback for their career.

“The great thing about using students is that not only do we benefit from providing services and a greater capacity to do so, but we also provide a site for learning,” Ortiz Upston said.

Ultimately, the MHC hopes to expand collaborative partnerships to offer internship opportunities to students in more fields and degrees, such as psychology.

“We hope to create an internship experience that supports our students, but also provides necessary services to our student population dealing with issues such as racial trauma and gender-based violence, while creating spaces that are safe on students,” said Acevedo Weatherholtz.

At present, the MHC lends an ear to 50 students only through counselling. Just this past spring, WRC Counseling provided more than 600 clinical hours of free counseling to students and staff across campus.

“We’re serving 50 students right now, but we’re serving 50 students who really need it,” Acevedo Weatherholtz said. “I think COVID-19 has really brought attention to mental health needs and exacerbated them.”

The newly graduated social work interns also provided 345 service hours in the same time frame. They focused on serving those in need with SNAP, EBT and Medicaid assistance. Others are helped to apply for insurance.

“I think of it largely as a triage,” Ortiz Upston said. “It’s really figuring out when they go in, what are the services that will benefit them in the situation that they’re experiencing?”

This semester, the total rose to more than 1,250 hours. The need, MHC leaders agree, is great.

For those not entirely comfortable receiving assistance in person, there are also telehealth 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 using students to help in this effort,” Ortiz Upston said.

While other great resources exist such as Student Health and Counseling (SHAC), she says everything provided at the MHC is special and not redundant to any other service on campus. That’s largely because, they say, the MHC services are free and therefore accessible to any student, regardless of whether they have health insurance.

We are excited about and appreciative of all the work that has been done across campus in the area of ​​mental health and wellness,” said El Centro Director Rosa Isela Cervantes. “We are excited to expand and contribute to the collective work to meet students’ needs and support them in their academic journey and lifelong goals.”

As one of the confidential campus advocacy sites with a long history of providing trauma mitigation in response to domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking, WRC also provides counseling interns with specialized training in responding to gender-based violence.

“Advocacy is much more urgent, something serious,” Acevedo Weatherholtz said. “Of course they need counselling, but right now they really just have to get through the legal aspect of it. They realize they have rights.”

However, it still goes back to counseling, and the very basic act of destigmatizing the mental health assistance that so many on campus need. Coming out of the pandemic, they emphasize, there are many who need help but are stuck on waiting lists, or without a way out for their real problem.

“Many locations are at capacity, so offering these resources in different areas is essential to student well-being at UNM,” Ortiz Upston said. “The needs we see now are different. They used to be big, 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 coming years.

“It’s important that we have that support, so a program like this is long-lasting and sustainable, and students who need this support have it available to them,” Ortiz Upston said.

They are currently seeking other funding sources for long-term sustainability for this essential pilot.

“As we work to achieve our mission, our mission, the goals for the future, I think that in the meantime we also provide a space that is really necessary and important to destigmatize mental health,” said Acevedo Weatherholtz.

You can reach out directly to the MHC depending on your needs. Those emails are different for counseling and social work services. Students can also learn more about the collaborative at the Women’s Resource Center . Resources can also be found at The center of the race.

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