When a UB student goes into crisis at 2 a.m., they will more often than not end up calling University Police, not UB Counseling.
That’s because, as the only 24/7 department at UB, UPD is tasked with handling mental health crises — no matter what hour they may arise. Counseling Services does offer an after-hours counselor, but only UPD has the ability to transport students to Erie County Medical Center.
Deputy Chief of Police Josh Sticht says UPD is heavily relied upon because it provides around-the-clock intervention services that other departments, including Counseling Services, can’t.
“There’s a couple reasons why [UPD is tasked with responding to mental health crises],” Sticht said. “We’re the only people at the university who will answer the phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Also, as police officers in New York State, our officers are the only people on campus who have the legal authority to take somebody for that involuntary admission if it’s needed.”
Approximately 75% of UPD officers have received specialized crisis intervention training, which gives them the expertise to respond to mental health crises, according to Sticht. But the other 25% of officers are still able to respond, he says.
When on-campus students find themselves in crisis, UPD may be asked to do a welfare check to ensure they are OK. Welfare checks “range” from getting a student to respond to phone calls to transporting them to a mental health facility to everything in between, according to Sticht.
“Most of the calls that we get requesting welfare checks don’t actually come from Counseling Services,” Sticht said. “Sometimes we do, but the vast majority that we get come from other students, RAs, faculty… students, classmates and sometimes family members. We get them from all over.”
Of the 104 welfare calls UPD completed this year prior to April 22, 50 were intended to ensure a student was doing OK, while eight were escalated to involuntary treatment at ECMC, according to Sticht.
In order to better serve the needs of students, several departments participate in a Students of Concern Committee chaired by Elizabeth Lidano, the director of Student Conduct and Advocacy. The goal of the committee is to identify students in need of help and coordinate an appropriate response.
“We built the Students of Concern Committee which has representation from [UPD], Campus Living, Student Conduct and Advocacy, Counseling Services and Student Health Services,” Sticht said. “We combine all that information because if somebody is in a mental health crisis, they may be acting strangely in a class, and a faculty member has a concern. There might be similar information that Campus Living has picked up on. We share the information so we get a better picture of how to help that person.”
Sticht added that while the committee has weekly standing meetings, any pressing concerns are brought up immediately and will not wait.
Grace Verwerie, a junior legal studies major and the president of Active Minds, a club dedicated to mental health awareness, says UB and its Counseling Services need to do more for students in crisis.
“We have the opportunities, the resources and the mindset at UB to be pioneers in the face of mental health,” Verwerie said. “We have these resources available to us to not rely on UPD for every crisis that happens. I’m sure UPD does a great job at what they’re trained for… but it’s one of those things where maybe we have a character playing a role that they weren’t meant for.”
Sharon Mitchell, the director of Counseling Services, said in an email to The Spectrum that her department maintains open communication with UPD and seeks out ways to better student experiences.
Mitchell added that in 2020, Counseling Services changed its after-hours crisis counseling number so students would not have to call UPD and ask for a counselor. Now, students can just call 716-645-2720 and press “2” and be connected directly.
Julie Frey is a senior news/features editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Julie Frey is a senior news/features editor at The Spectrum. She is a political science and environmental studies double major. She enjoys theorizing about Taylor Swift, the color yellow and reading books that make her cry. She can be found on Twitter @juliannefrey.