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Jenny Peek and Kate Prengaman reported this story with other journalism students in a UW-Madison class taught by Professor Deborah Blum, in collaboration with the nonprofit, nonpartisan Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Investigative Journalism Education Consortium, which includes Midwestern university journalism professors and students working on news projects in the public interest. The Consortium is supported by a grant from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. Read the IJEC consortium stories

In collaboration with a reporting class taught by UW-Madison Professor Deborah Blum, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism examined mental health services at the University of Wisconsin System’s 13 four-year campuses. The project included extensive public records requests, interviews with students and officials, and data analyses.

Key findings include:

  • More UW students are seeking mental health care, reflecting nationwide trends.
  • In response, campus counseling centers are identifying and treating urgent cases first, emphasizing group therapy, limiting counseling sessions and referring students to off-campus providers when they need longer-term care.
  • In 2011, just eight campuses met recommendations made by a 2008 University of Wisconsin System subcommittee audit calling for one mental health provider for every 2,000 students. The average was about one mental health provider for every 2,027 students across the 13 campuses.
  • Only two schools — UW-Stevens Point and UW-Superior — met the stricter international standard of one provider for every 1,000 to 1,500 students.
  • Campuses are trying to follow up more closely with high-risk students referred off campus, another of the subcommittee’s recommendations. UW-Madison, for example, hired a full-time case manager in 2010 who works only on student referrals.
  • To improve access, some campuses have introduced programs like “Let’s Talk,” in which counselors try to reach students who may not be comfortable seeking therapy.
  • Students are forming campus mental health groups to support peers and fight stigma.

The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism ( collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

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