SALT LAKE CITY — Utah public colleges and universities do not track suicides among their students, but the campuses, starting this year, will regularly assess the mental health and wellness needs under a new systemwide initiative.
Nationally, there is surging national demand for mental health services on college campuses, according to a new Associated Press report. However, among the nation's 100 largest public universities, less than half tracked student suicides and just 27 did so consistently since 2007, the AP found.
While the mental health and wellness plan by the Utah State Board of Regents last September calls for better assessment of needs, improved access to mental health services, and the development of five-year plans by each public college and university, it does not specifically ask the institutions to track suicides.
It will, however, require each college or university, when hosting a board of regents meeting, to report on its progress in addressing mental health issues, said Patricia Jones, a regent who led a working group that studied the issue.
Melanie Heath, spokeswoman for the Utah System of Higher Education, said the system is still "parsing the details" of a common assessment that would be administered at each campus to determine needs and guide funding decisions.
At least one public university in Utah has taken steps to enhance its on-campus services.
In the fall of 2016, student leaders at Utah State University declared a "mental health crisis," noting that students had to wait as long as six weeks to see on-campus counselors.
USU students have since agreed to pay higher student fees to hire additional counselors, and the institution has committed part of its Tier II tuition for mental health services.
A student member of the board of regents brought the issue to the full board, resulting in the creation of the working group, which delivered the recommendations last fall.
The regents' plan calls for greater access to mental health services through community partnerships, enhanced use of technology such as the SafeUT smartphone app, and increasing the number and diversity of mental health professionals in the state by creating more capacity in graduate-level programs.
Utah has the fifth-highest suicide rate in the nation. States with the highest rates of suicide tend to be in the West and largely rural.
Suicide is the eighth-leading cause of death in Utah overall, and the leading cause of death among youths ages 10 to 17.