Since forming a partnership with Right Track Medical Group, Mississippi State University is striving for better mental health care for its students.
The new partnership will help bridge the gap between students who are struggling with mental illnesses and getting the necessary help they need.
Dr. Clifton Story, executive director of MSU’s University Health Services, said the partnership between outpatient clinic Right Track Medical Group and MSU’s John C. Longest Student Health Center will create a more accessible outlet for students to receive proper psychiatric care, especially in the forms of mental health counseling and medication treatment.
“Psychiatric care is something that’s really been on all of our minds here, something that we felt a lot of the last five or six years,” Story said.
Although all of the Student Health Center providers will care and provide for a variety of mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and ADHD, Story said some issues may require more intensive care.
“Mental health is more complicated, more complex for us as providers to deal with, to discuss or medicate,” Story said. “So, having a professional that’s trained in psychiatry is helpful.”
Since the recent arrival of the Right Track Medical Group clinic in Starkville, MSU medical professionals thought an agreement with the outpatient clinic would be a helpful resource for students to receive treatment for otherwise undetected mental health issues. This partnership is especially significant considering Mississippi is a state traditionally known for having poor access to adequate mental health services.
“It’s very hard in Mississippi in general to get good psychiatric care. There’s just not a lot of providers, not a lot of opportunities. So, there’s the question of how we improve that here, and it just so happens that they (Right Track) were opening a clinic,” Story said.
MSU medical officials discussed the formation of a potential partnership with Right Track Medical Group and agreed to work with professionals from the Right Track Medical group daily.
“As a whole, we like to provide the best well-rounded overall health care for every patient on campus, especially our student population, to help them achieve their goals at Mississippi State,” Story said. “We make sure that we have the most up-to-date mental health therapies and collaborations with other specialists.”
According to Story, Advanced Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Ella Williamson and Psychiatrist and Chief Medical Officer Stephen Pannel will be at the Student Health Center to provide specialized mental health care for students. Williamson will be at the center Monday through Thursday, and Pannel will see patients as an MSU employee every Friday.
John C. Longest Student Health Center Physician Dr. Robert Looney said this partnership would allow MSU students to become more aware of their general mental health and encourage them to seek help when needed.
“When people have several other things going on, they have high blood pressure, they have diabetes, but they’re also battling depression or they’re battling anxiety, you have to get everything connected, everything treated as one,” Looney said.
Looney said part of the necessary treatment for some cases could involve meeting with a certified psychiatrist, something Longest does not currently provide on its own.
“That includes not only just medication, which can be the cornerstone of medicine, but some of it can include nonmedicinal things, and that includes counseling … but that also includes maybe sitting down and talking to a board-certified psychiatrist that can make this a multidisciplinary therapy and treatment plan,” Looney said.
Kameron Talley, a graduate assistant for the Department of Health Promotion and Wellness, said MSU students will benefit from the improvement of this mental health treatment regardless of the stigma associated with mental health.
“The mental health stigma is still there, but with the outreach that we (Department of Health Promotion and Wellness) do and the outreach that the student counseling does, the more we can get students and let them know about the resources that are on campus that can be beneficial,” Talley said.
Talley said opportunities for better treatment will lead more students to reach out for help.
“I think that this can help with just providing better treatment for students, and so if we have better treatment then hopefully students are more likely to seek services so that they can get full care,” Talley said.
Any student can make a free appointment to see one of the center’s physicians or nurse practitioners; however, if a referral is made for specialized care, students will have to pay a small fee to see the psychiatrist or nurse practitioner for a mental health evaluation and additional treatment.
If a student needs to see a psychiatrist, they need to do one of two things; they must be referred by a doctor or nurse practitioner in the clinic, or a counselor at the counseling center can also refer a student to the Student Health Center to see the psychiatrist. Students cannot call or arrive at the clinic without a referral to access the psychiatrist.
Overall, the goal of the Student Health Center is to provide the best medical care for students, including top-notch mental healthcare. Looney said the Student Health Center will help students in need no matter what type of illness they might have.
“At any time, it doesn’t matter, just like if a student felt like they had a cold or had strep throat, no student would probably even hesitate to run in here and try to see a doctor or a nurse practitioner … We would want them to know that even though all the other doctors and nurse practitioners here aren’t necessarily psychiatrists, we’ve had training in that and we will always try to help you with whatever that may be, whether that’s depression, anxiety or PTSD,” Looney said.