When a UM student died at Aber Hall last semester, many students wondered why there seemed to be no explanation of what happened in the weeks that followed. The lack of a UM administrative response left some students feeling in the dark. With many different support groups and organizations on campus that focus on student well-being, the campus-wide email about the student’s death brought up many conversations about mental health issues at UM among students, faculty and staff. The Behavioral Intervention Team is one of the groups working to address mental health issues.
Chief of the UM Police Department Brad Giffin has been a member for four years, working with other department heads around campus, but he is unsure exactly when the group started. The group of 15 members includes Curry medical staff, counselors, the housing department and other administrative employees. The team meets to discuss referrals sent in through the organization’s online portal on the UM website. From there, a threat level is decided and a member of the team works to reach out to the students and provide resources. “It’s a pretty cooperative effort,” Giffin said, “It includes anybody we think would be beneficial for us to talk to so we get the right solution to the person who needs it.”The BIT is not a crisis team, however, they are a prevention team. With the referral system, they try to help out students before major incidents occur. “The majority of people will take the recommendation that the BIT has and make good use of it,” Giffin said.The referral system is a two-sided coin, though; it depends on others to look out for one another and report what they see. Giffin said many students find it difficult to reach out for help when they need it, especially in moments of crisis.
“Us reaching out to provide that help to them is refreshing and probably reassuring,” Giffin said, “It’s like, ‘Hey, somebody is here watching, and they care about me.’” But the fact that not many people on campus are aware of this program further diminishes its ability to work with students. This is due partly to the lack of funding the program receives, according to Giffin.The BIT must rely on funding from the housing department, otherwise it doesn’t have much of a budget. The team was able to hire Jess Robbins, its first case manager, this year. Robbins manages referrals and assigns cases to the team. She is also working to spread the word about the organization around campus by implementing the BIT into training groups and sharing the document on the website that gives tips for disruptive behavior. Erinn Guzik, the director of counseling services at Curry who originally joined the team in 2017, said that she “anticipates even more outreach now that Jess is hired.” Guzik provides clinical guidance for the team on student mental health needs.Regardless, there is rarely a mention of the BIT at UM. Giffin said the team is working to fix this issue by expanding referrals for the BIT from just the website. Giffin is bringing information about the BIT into training classes he gives to students. The referral system only applies to students on campus, not staff. For staff on campus, the group does not provide mental health resources. Giffin said he wishes he could expand the BIT process to not only staff on campus, but to the city as well. “It’s important that people understand that people care about them,” Giffin said. “And that they are willing to provide options to help them get whatever help it is that they need.”To access the Behavioral Intervention Team’s website, go to UM’s main webpage. Referrals can be sent anonymously and at any time. For other mental health-related options, contact Counseling Services at 406-243-4712 or the Curry Health Center at 406-243-2122.