Mental Health First Responders

Free, mobile after-hours crisis support for students living in Housing & Residential Education.

Ask any mental health expert, and they’ll tell you that mental health crises don’t always happen during the standard business hours of Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. To bridge this gap, the Mental Health First Responders (MH1) program was created at the University of Utah to serve currently enrolled students living in on-campus housing. MH1 is a mobile service staffed by master’s level mental health counselors that provide student-centered after-hours crisis response and prevention.

The MH1 pilot program has been operational for one year and is thriving. We sat down with the Mental Health First Responders program supervisor, Dr. Torrence Wimbish, to learn more.

How is MH1 different from other crisis care services?

What sets the MH1 program apart is our team’s ability to be mobile. Our team members have the necessary permissions to enter the campus residence halls to meet students where they are and provide personalized care. This is unique because usually, an individual experiencing a crisis goes to a hospital or care center. Our program’s ability to meet students where they are wouldn’t be possible without our excellent partnership with the U’s Housing & Residential Education department.

Another unique and intentional feature is our non-traditional hours of operation. We know that students tend to struggle with mental health challenges later in the evening when they’re done with classes and social activities—that’s when they may face feelings of being overwhelmed from coursework, being away from home, or any other struggles they’re dealing with.

Our goal is to provide care seven days a week from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. You can view our spring 2022 hours on the MH1 website.

What do you in MH1 define as a “crisis?”

The individual defines what a crisis is. A crisis is anything that exceeds the student’s own ability to manage their emotions and cope with a situation. If a U student has feelings of being overwhelmed, can’t figure out what to do, can’t manage their emotions or has thoughts of suicide, those are all times to call MH1 for support. Prevention is important!

What does it mean to provide “mobile support?”

Many students who experience a crisis may feel their own living space is the place that feels the safest. In a crisis, we want students to feel as comfortable as possible. So, “mobile support” means our team will leave our traditional office space and go to the student’s room in their moment of need. Our trained mental health counselors will assess the student’s needs to intervene and de-escalate the crisis to stabilize the student in real-time. We can then provide coping skills and additional resources tailored to each student.

MH1 is offering a free Stress Relief Summit on Wednesday, March 16, 2022, at 6:30 p.m., at Kahlert Village. This summit is similar to group therapy. Participants will learn coping skills, receive multiple perspectives, support, encouragement and feedback. The summit will help members deepen self-awareness, learn how they relate to others and learn effective ways to manage stress. Registration is required to participate.

MH1 is a newer program on campus, have you seen many students taking advantage of these services yet?

Yes! We call interactions with students “outreaches.” In the spring semester of 2021, we completed 27 outreaches. By fall 2021, we completed an additional 42 outreaches. These numbers are fantastic considering we had just started marketing the program to our residential community. That campaign will continue in the fall 2022 semester.

How do students access MH1 services?

Our MH1staff is available seven days a week to better serve the resident student population. This spring 2022 semester, our hours are Sunday through Wednesday, from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., and Thursday through Saturday, from noon to 10 p.m.

Students can also drop in at the MH1 office located in Kahlert Village, room 1330, and call 385-321-5356. More information about all our services can be found on the MH1 website.

What are the long-term goals of the MH1 program?

We want to help destigmatize mental health and normalize seeking help and support. We also want to reduce the number of students who go to the emergency room to receive mental health treatment. We are working to educate students about MH1so they know it is a safe and compassionate resource available to them when they are experiencing a crisis or overwhelming mental health challenge.

How will you accomplish these goals?

We are already finding success through word-of-mouth and information shared by our past outreaches. Students that have received support share their experiences working with our team and the personalized and ongoing care plans they receive based on their individual needs.

We are also finding success through our campus partnerships that are focused on prevention. These partners provide long-term therapeutic services, group therapy and emotional well-being workshops.

How has MH1 become so successful in such a short amount of time?

Thanks to our amazingly collaborative partners including Huntsman Mental Health Institute, University Counseling Center and University Housing and Residential Education. Our initial funding was generously provided through a grant from the Huntsman Family Foundation.

Does MH1 have volunteer or internship opportunities?

MH1 welcomed two Master of Social Work student interns in the fall of 2021. Interns work with the clinicians to provide services to students and co-facilitate the weekly process group. MH1 interns have been hosting monthly tabling events at Kahlert Village and are planning activities for the Stress Relief Summit in March. Currently, MH1 does not have volunteer opportunities, but we hope to in the future.

Tell us one more time, how do students access MH1 services?

Our office is staffed seven days a week. Spring 2022 semester our hours are Sunday to Wednesday 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., and Thursday to Saturday, noon to 10 p.m.

Students can also drop in, the MH1 office is located in Kahlert Village, Room 1330, and call us at 385-321-5356. More information about all our services can be found at: mh1.utah.edu

For additional free and confidential crisis support 24/7, download the SafeUT Crisis Chat and Tip Line app or call the Utah Crisis Line at 801-587-3000.

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