Northern Michigan University is emphasizing a holistic, integrated approach to student and employee wellbeing as it identifies priority goals and strategies for the coming year. Abigail Wyche, who transitioned in June from social work department head to a 12-month appointment as special adviser for mental health and wellness, detailed some of the plans at Wednesday morning's fall convocation.
The new special adviser position was created in the wake of a wellness assessment conducted by former Michigan Department of Community Health Director James Haveman, who was also an NMU trustee. His report resulted in four themes that will serve as guiding goals for new campus initiatives, building on what has already been accomplished. Wyche will lead their implementation.
“It's been exciting,” Wyche said before her presentation. “I've been welcomed by lots of different folks on campus and in the community who are very pleased that NMU is making wellbeing a priority, and they've been very forthcoming with ideas. Gaining others' insights is valuable; I don't want to make these plans in a vacuum. We also want our goals related to wellbeing cycled into the university's strategic planning process, so we can hold ourselves accountable for making improvements and capture data that will help us evaluate how we are doing with strategic initiatives moving forward.”
Because of Wyche's background as a social worker whose specialization was in planning and administration, she has had the necessary training to lead systems-level change in her new capacity.
“And my past decade of experience working with NMU students and faculty has made me aware of where there are gaps and where we can do better. It's more effective to use social work's holistic approach because it's not only about an individual's psychological health. It's also physical health, social situations, spirituality and other factors that all contribute to a person's wellbeing.”
The four goals guiding Northern's commitment are:
1. Access and Awareness: Destigmatize help-seeking, promote available campus resources and services, and provide tools for responding to signs of distress. Wyche led a responding to distress workshop for new and current faculty members on Monday. Northern has already redesigned its nmu.edu/wellbeing website, created a wellbeing component for the NMU app, produced magnets and flyers with helpful resources to distribute across campus, and added wellness rooms in some buildings. Near-future strategies include making Mental Health First Aid training available to any campus employee. NMU will also reestablish its health promotions office and task it with designing and implementing suicide prevention and wellbeing awareness campaigns, with students serving as peer educators.
2. Leadership and Integration: Integrate physical and mental health services in one facility and increase the capacity to meet wellbeing needs of the campus community. NMU created Wyche's special adviser position and started the search for a psychiatric physician assistant in the NMU Health Center. A clinical counseling director will be hired for Counseling and Consultation Services, and staffing levels will align with the International Accreditation of Counseling Services' standard of one professional counselor for every 1,500 enrolled students. NMU will add a team of professionals and trainees to provide comprehensive case management services for students. The university will also sign on to the Okanagan Charter, which calls upon post-secondary schools to embed health into all aspects of campus culture and to lead health promotion action and collaboration locally and globally.
3. Crisis Response: NMU will use trauma-informed emergency protocols and crisis communication strategies on an ongoing basis, and formalize partnerships with community mental health providers. Wyche has already been in contact with Pathways in Marquette, Great Lakes Recovery Centers and campus ministry representatives. She has invited all to participate in a Sept. 7 tabletop exercise led by Bob VandePol, the former president of Crisis Care Network, the world's largest provider of critical incident response services to the workplace.
VandePol managed CCN's Command Center in Manhattan after the 2001 terrorist attacks and led teams in response to high-profile tragedies including the Boston Marathon bombing; Aurora, Sandy Hook, and Las Vegas shootings; natural disasters, and our nation's prominent university-based tragedies. He frequently consults with organizations regarding how leaders can accelerate organizational recovery following crises.
“We're going to look at our crisis protocols already in place and talk through them to see if we can handle it better or in a more trauma-informed way,” Wyche said. “We want to work closely with community service providers to make sure adequate help is delivered in the middle of a crisis. Our hope is to end up with a formal partnership, giving the providers space to work on campus with students on preventative care and also immediate de-escalation, support and assessment for situations that don't rise to the level that hospitalization is required.”
4. Continuous Improvement: NMU will use strategic, data-informed decision-making. The university will readminister the Healthy Minds Survey (HMS) and the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) in the winter 2023 semester and conduct them biannually afterward. It will also review supplemental survey tools and make key findings available to the public. The executive summary of the last HMS and NSSE findings from Spring 2021 is available on the revised nmu.edu/wellbeing site.
“Strengthen support for mental health and physical wellbeing” is a component of the student success and retention focus goal within NMU's interim strategic plan. Wyche said the university will ensure that it remains an ongoing priority.
For more, visit nmu.edu/wellbeing.