Fairfield turns to Run-DMC star, Uwill on telehealth for grad students

The university is providing an extra layer of support and mental health care help through the partnership

Recognizing the challenges facing student populations, colleges and universities are working on providing swifter and more accessible vehicles for those who seek mental health care.

Many of those pitches and strategies have been aimed at undergraduates, especially first-year and second-year students who have experienced big changes in their lives and to their campuses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

They aren’t alone. Graduate students are facing enormous challenges as well. Fallout from housing and financial problems and others are hitting young adults hard.

Fairfield University in Connecticut is one of many schools in the country trying to lend an extra hand of assistance to grad students. It recently launched an initiative that gives them an opportunity to connect with licensed mental health professionals discreetly through the real-time teletheraphy platform Uwill, which is backed by former Run-DMC founder and rap star Darryl McDaniels.

As with other telehealth options, with Uwill, students can connect with counselors via phone, video or by messaging online. The benefit for colleges is that it provides a supplemental option for students to seek out care, when sometimes in-person systems can get overburdened. Those seeking help are on the rise. According to Uwill, “36% of college students are currently dealing with a mental health issue, up from 22% 10 years ago.”

Universities such as Fairfield are trying to meet students when and where they need help the most.

“As we expand online graduate offerings at the university, we will continue to not only provide excellence in academic programs, but in student support services and opportunities as well,” said Jill Buban, Fairfield’s vice president of digital strategy and online education. “This program puts students in the driver’s seat by enabling them to identify and select counselors that they are comfortable with, in a modality that they decide works best for them.”

Getting started

In forming this unique partnership, Fairfield decided to team up with a company that received $3.25 in seed funding from McDaniels, as well as education technology industry leaders Stephen Kramer, the CEO of Bright Horizons, and John Katzman, founder of the Princeton Review.

McDaniels knows all too well the power of mental health help. Despite experiencing the height of fame with Run-DMC, he experienced many of the lows as well. In a video on the Uwill site, he discusses those difficult moments, saying “something inside me said … I don’t want to live no more.”

McDaniels said at the time he didn’t know where to go for help or who to talk to because mental health issues were just not talked about. Fast-forward 15 years, and doors have been opened, especially through telehealth. Students not only have more options to seek treatment but also can do so privately and without fear. In return, they have become more willing to reach out.

Sensing that change and an opportunity to make a difference, McDaniels signed on. His all-in investment in the company is helping provide that window of hope for all students at institutions such as Fairfield.

“Access to mental health counseling has been an important request of our graduate students in recent years,” said Susan Birge, associate vice president for health and wellness and director of counseling and psychological services at Fairfield. “At the heart of Fairfield’s mission is the Jesuit value of cura personalis, or care of the whole person — mind, body and spirit. Uwill offers a service that provides care of the whole person and meets individuals where they are.”

As Uwill noted, students are increasingly seeking mental health help, especially in the past year with 60 percent of college students reporting significant anxiety. Some 8 in 10 students have reported experiencing some negative effects in their mental health in the past few months.

“While the urgency of addressing mental health issues on campus has increased dramatically, this isn’t a new challenge for students or institutional leaders,” said Uwill CEO Michael London and the founder of Examity and the Bloomberg Institute. “Historically, the stigma associated with seeking help in-person, and the impersonal nature of most online platforms, has been a major barrier to access. This service provides students with access to mental health professionals that they can select and vet themselves, to ensure that they get the personalized, on-demand support that can help them to thrive academically.”

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Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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