SUNY Launches a Comprehensive Plan to Expand Access to Mental Health Services to Every Student

By Office of Communications & Marketing | Sep 25, 2020

MEDIA CONTACT: Holly Liapis  | | (518) 320-1311

SUNY Partners with Thriving Campus, Connecting Every Student from SUNY’s 64 Campuses to Network of More Than 6,000 Licensed Mental Health Professionals

SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University Joins SUNY Upstate Medical University to Become Tele-Counseling Hub, Drastically Reducing Wait Times and Increasing the Number of SUNY Colleges Using Tele-Counseling by End of 2020

SUNY Makes Statewide Peer-to-Peer Assistance Hotline Operated at the University at Albany Accessible to All SUNY Students

Launches #ReachOutSUNY Campaign to Shatter Stigma, Increase Participation in Free Online Crisis Training Program as Pandemic Social Separation Increases Mental Health Issues Among College Students

#ReachOutSUNY Video Available Online

Albany, NY – 
In response to a nationwide uptick in mental health and wellness needs among college students due to the impact of COVID-19, State University of New York Chancellor Jim Malatras today announced a comprehensive plan to expand access to mental health services to every student at SUNY’s 64 campuses. The announcement was made from SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University with SUNY Chairman Merryl H. Tisch, and SUNY Trustees Marcos Crespo and Camille Joseph Varlack.

As part of this new plan, SUNY is partnering with Thriving Campus to provide every student from SUNY’s colleges and universities with access to a network of more than 6,000 licensed mental health service providers. The mobile-friendly app, already utilized at two SUNY campuses, breaks down a number of crucial, often overlooked barriers that students frequently encounter in the process of reaching out for help. By streamlining and simplifying what can be a stressful and overwhelming process, and building synergy with local mental health providers, more students will be seamlessly connected with the specific help they need, when they need it.

In addition, Chancellor Malatras announced that SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University will join SUNY Upstate Medical University as a hub for tele-counseling for SUNY students. The tele-counseling program offers cognitive behavioral therapy, consultative service for clinicians, and crisis assistance provided by SUNY physicians, psychologists, or nurse practitioners on a secure online platform. Upstate Medical currently serves as the tele-counseling hub for students at 10 SUNY campuses, and SUNY Downstate will provide services for an additional five campuses.

SUNY will also expand a peer-to-peer assistance hotline operated by the University at Albany to all students across the entire SUNY system. Students do not need to be in crisis to use this hotline. It’s a stigma-free, secure line for connecting about emotional, social, and other life issues.

To accompany this expansion of services, Chancellor Malatras also launched #ReachOutSUNY, a public awareness campaign designed to shatter the stigma associated with mental health struggles and asking for help, while educating students about available services. The campaign will also encourage more faculty, staff, and students to take the free online crisis training program Question, Persuade, and Refer (QPR) that teaches individuals how to recognize someone who may be in emotional distress or having suicidal thoughts, and how to appropriately engage and connect that person to resources that can help.

“For students everywhere, normal pressures associated with college are being compounded by the weight of this unprecedented time, with the challenges and disruptions caused by COVID-19 increasing levels of anxiety, stress, loneliness, and isolation,” said Chancellor Malatras. “With SUNY’s comprehensive Reach Out Mental Health Services Program, students across the entire SUNY system will have access to critical services, be it internal tele-counseling with SUNY medical professionals, an easy to use referral program to other local medical professionals, a system-wide peer-to-peer support network, the campus crisis hotline, and crisis prevention training. This has been a particularly difficult time and it has taken a toll, so by expanding available student mental health support services—and shattering the stigma that may be associated with seeking them out—students will be able to get the support they need, be it a long-term treatment for a specific issue, or when they just feel down and need someone to connect with.”

SUNY also has an active Student Mental Health and Wellness Task Force, which was established to make recommendations to the SUNY Board of Trustees on how the system can make a measurable difference in addressing the mental health needs of students and mitigating the negative effects of behavioral health risks, including suicide. The task force focuses on early interventions and explores existing practices and public health approaches across the nation to address the mental health needs of SUNY students. The task force is led by co-chairs SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University President Wayne J. Riley, M.D. and SUNY Oswego President Deborah Stanley, in consultation with Leah Wentworth, Ph.D., MPH, SUNY system administration’s Director of Student Wellness. The group is comprised of system administration staff, campus presidents, counseling center and student affairs staff, and faculty, as well as state and national mental health experts.

SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University President Riley said, “The coronavirus pandemic has caused a sea change in the way we assess and address mental health and wellness needs for everyone. By connecting students early on to licensed, mental health service providers through the Thriving Campus App, and providing access to resources, students can get the help they need during particularly stressful periods. SUNY Downstate is proud to join our sister campuses as a tele-counseling center for students where we will provide interventions that can assist in mitigating challenges our students face.”

SUNY Oswego President Stanley said, “The Thriving Campus App will expand the mental health services we offer and deliver mobile access to students in need during this most difficult time as they navigate living and learning amidst a global pandemic. Making such a resource available will provide students with quick, reliable connections to a broad range of mental health providers. As co-chair of the SUNY Student Mental Health and Wellness Task Force, I am proud to work with Chancellor Malatras, Dr. Riley, and all our colleagues and mental health professionals across the state to make a measurable difference in addressing the mental health needs of students, creating greater understanding and breaking down barriers associated with mental health. The Thriving Campus App reinforces Oswego’s and all of SUNY’s focus on and support of mental health programming, staffing, and services that are responsive to the health and well-being of our students and collective campus communities.”

University at Albany President Havidán Rodríguez said, “UAlbany’s Middle Earth student volunteers have for five decades demonstrated the power of students helping other students through common academic, social and emotional challenges associated with college. Never before have the services provided by Middle Earth’s volunteers been more essential, and we are thrilled that students throughout the SUNY system will now benefit from their selfless commitment to assisting their peers.”

SUNY Student Advocate John Graham said, “We cannot deny that college students across our nation are coming to campuses with increasingly complex mental health and substance use related concerns. We can also not deny the priority that we must place on addressing these concerns proactively and comprehensively. The initiatives that our system is releasing today make a wonderful contribution to this set of programs, and we look forward to harnessing the talent across the State University of New York system as we move forward to address mental health and substance use concerns over the next several months. A comprehensive approach, which addresses the needs of not only the individual student but the entire campus population, is the ideal strategy to respond comprehensively to mental health concerns.”

Dr. M. Dolores Cimini, University at Albany Director for Behavioral Health Promotion and Applied Research, said, “The transition to college is perhaps the most significant life event faced by young people in our society. To be confronted by the potential transmission of the Coronavirus and the associated requirement to separate from vital relationships and supportive connections can be stressful and even devastating. Having supports and an action plan in place can offer a road map to keep affected students on track toward degree completion and help them navigate this challenging time emotionally.”

Thriving Campus Application Expansion 
Thriving Campus is a HIPAA-compliant web application that breaks down the barriers to getting help by bridging the gap between campus counseling services and local mental health and wellness service providers. Seeing the value of Thriving Campus at Purchase College and SUNY Oswego, SUNY administration has secured funding to expand it system-wide.

When campus counseling centers determine that a student needs more specialized, long-term care, the easy-to-access, mobile-friendly Thriving Campus App facilitates the handoff to a licensed local provider. Providers manage their own profiles, posting up-to-date information on their specializations and time availability. Their profiles are hidden if they are not accepting new patients, breaking down a frequent barrier to services by preventing students from reaching out, being turned down, getting frustrated, and ultimately abandoning their search.

The Thriving Campus directories are customized by college. They also include a help guide that provides tips on insurance and choosing a provider, as well as a voicemail script that puts students at ease reaching out. Colleges can also utilize the app to create custom provider lists based on specific treatment needs.

Creating a Second Tele-Counseling Hub 
First piloted in 2018 thanks to New York State funding, the Student Tele-Counseling Network (STCN) currently offers tele-counseling services to students at select campuses through Upstate Medical University.

The program connects students to an Upstate Medical physician, psychologist, or nurse practitioner on a secure online platform. Those professionals help with a wide range of mental health issues, ranging from anxiety to depression to eating disorders. These services are provided at a non-out-of-pocket cost.

By adding SUNY Downstate as a second hub to supplement Upstate Medical—SUNY will expand the program to an additional five campuses by the end of this year. Ten campuses are currently participating including, Binghamton University, SUNY Cobleskill, SUNY Morrisville, Nassau Community College, SUNY New Paltz, SUNY Oneonta, Onondaga Community College, SUNY Oswego, SUNY Polytechnic Institute, and SUNY Potsdam. The program drastically reduces wait times for tele-counseling services.

Peer-to-Peer Assistance Hotline 
The peer-to-peer assistance hotline established at UAlbany will now be accessible system-wide. Students experiencing feelings such as loneliness, depression, anxiety, or uncertainty can call the hotline to connect with a trained student peer. Students do not need to be in crisis to use this hotline. It’s a stigma-free, secure line for connecting about emotional, social, and other life issues. The phone lines are staffed by peers trained to assess students’ well-being and, if necessary, link them with the appropriate mental health services, academic or technological resources, or financial assistance available at their respective campuses.

Since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, the Middle Earth hotline has been a key resource for students at the University at Albany, with trained peers engaging in more than 8,000 well-being calls with fellow students. The hotline is open 1 p.m. through midnight Monday through Thursday, and operates 24/7 over the weekend, beginning on Fridays at 1 p.m. and closing on Sundays at 11:59 p.m. during the fall and spring semesters. The number is 518-442-5777.

Trained peers from the Middle Earth program will also offer virtual “hangout spaces” over Zoom Monday through Thursday from 3 4p.m. during the UAlbany semester to provide an additional source of connection for students in quarantine or isolation.

Crisis Text Line
These new, expanded services supplement SUNY’s 24/7 crisis text line, which was launched in May in tandem with the New York State Office of Mental Health. The crisis text line is a confidential text line available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Crisis counselors are committed and carefully trained volunteers from across the United States. They support students experiencing feelings of isolation, stress, or suicidality. Crisis counselors use empathetic listening techniques, bringing texts “from a hot moment to a cool calm”. With an emphasis on building rapport and trust, crisis counselors help texters explore the issues, establish the texter’s goal, and collaboratively problem-solve to come up with a plan for the texter to stay safe. To access the crisis text line, students simply text Got5U to 741-741.

Crisis Prevention Training 
Also, in May, and in partnership with the Office of Mental Health, SUNY launched an online suicide prevention training. So far, 675 members of the SUNY community have undergone an online Question, Persuade, and Refer (QPR) training that teaches them how to recognize someone who may be in emotional distress or having suicidal thoughts, and how to appropriately engage and connect that person to resources that can help. Anyone can practice QPR in any setting, and it is appropriate in all relationships. QPR does not require clinical training, only a willingness to listen, care, and help. Members of the SUNY community may register by going to and entering "SUNY" as the organizational code.

About The State University of New York 
The State University of New York is the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the United States, and more than 95 percent of all New Yorkers live within 30 miles of any one of SUNY’s 64 colleges and universities. Across the system, SUNY has four academic health centers, five hospitals, four medical schools, two dental schools, the state’s only college of optometry, and manages one US Department of Energy National Laboratory. As of Fall 2019, more than 415,500 students were enrolled in a degree-granting program at a SUNY campus. In total, SUNY serves about 1.3 million students in credit-bearing courses and programs, continuing education, and community outreach programs. SUNY oversees nearly a quarter of academic research in New York. Research expenditures system-wide exceeded $1.7 billion in fiscal year 2019, including significant contributions from students and faculty. There are three million SUNY alumni worldwide, and one in three New Yorkers with a college degree is a SUNY alum. To learn more about how SUNY creates opportunity, visit


About SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University

SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University is the borough’s only academic medical center for health education, research, and patient care, and is a 342-bed facility serving the healthcare needs of New York City, and Brooklyn’s 2.6 million residents. University Hospital of Brooklyn (UHB) is Downstate’s teaching hospital, backed by the expertise of an outstanding medical school and the research facilities of a world-class academic center. More than 800 physicians, representing 53 specialties and subspecialties—many of them ranked as tops in their fields—comprise Downstate's staff.

A regional center for cardiac care, neonatal and high-risk infant services, pediatric dialysis, and transplantation, Downstate also houses a major learning center for children with physical ailments or neurological disorders. In addition to UHB, Downstate comprises a College of Medicine, College of Nursing, School of Health Professions, a School of Graduate Studies, a School of Public Health, and a multifaceted biotechnology initiative, including the Downstate Biotechnology Incubator and BioBAT for early-stage and more mature companies, respectively. For more information, visit or follow us on Twitter at @sunydownstate.