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Boost in mental health funding provides for behavioral intervention teams at N.D. colleges

FARGO – If a North Dakota State University residence hall adviser or professor notices a student is acting out of character, they can report their concern to the school’s behavioral intervention team.

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In light of high-profile campus shootings, behavioral intervention teams have gained popularity nationwide. Made up of a cross-section of university leaders and student service staff, the team assesses risks and offers help whenever someone in the campus community is concerned about a student in order to prevent campus tragedies.

As part of a $280,000 boost to mental health services throughout the state’s 11 public colleges over the next two years, the North Dakota University System wants to establish behavioral intervention teams at each of its campuses.

The system was awarded funding from the Legislature after a task force recommended improved mental health resources throughout state colleges.

“More and more students are coming to campus with mental health needs, and we need to be able to respond to those needs so they can be successful in the classroom,” said Becky Lamboley, director of student affairs for the University System office.

The task force called for “statewide guidelines for the creation, training and functioning of students of concern/behavioral intervention teams.”

While some schools have crisis teams or other resources, Lamboley said there needs to be a process in place on each campus through which people can identify concerning behaviors, look for patterns and provide services.

Unlike crisis response teams, behavioral response teams are designed to intervene before a student turns to self-harm, suicide or homicide.

It’s an attractive model because there’s little cost associated with a team because it requires only the time of college staff and administrators. The system was given $13,000 for the one-time costs of team training set to take place this year.

W. Scott Lewis started looking at early intervention strategies more than a decade ago while working in student affairs at the University of South Carolina.

Most colleges had a crisis team in place, Lewis said, “but they had to wait for there to be some issue. Something had to occur before these teams got into place.”

He said the idea was to identify behaviors before a student was suicidal, wound up in the hospital due to drinking or developed an eating disorder.

“You don’t just wake up one morning and decide to hurt yourself,” Lewis said.

So they developed a model for a behavioral intervention team based on that idea and to “try to keep a crisis response team from being busy.”

After the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 and another campus shooting at Northern Illinois University in 2008, more campuses are following the model.

NDSU’s team, made up of representatives from Student Affairs, the Counseling Center, housing, university police and academic affairs, started in 2009.

The University of North Dakota also has a Care Team to assess situations, intervene and develop an action plan for students. It’s made up of staff from student services, residence services, campus police, academic colleges and other on- and off-campus partners.

NDSU started looking at the behavioral intervention team model after the shootings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois.

“Any number of people on campus (at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois) had pieces of information that standalone did not cause significant alarm, but once compiled together painted a picture that something was brewing,” said Janna Stoskopf, dean of student life at NDSU.

When the team gets a report about a student, Stoskopf said it evaluates each incident on a case-by-case basis and tries to identify whether it’s an isolated incident or there are indicators of a larger problem.

“We want to assist the student – deal with whatever it is that is causing them distress, continue their academics and be successful,” Stoskopf said.