UK Continues to Invest in Wellness of Students

photo of students walking across Gatton Student Center pedway
Students walking over Gatton Student Center pedway. Pete Comparoni | UK Photo.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Feb. 21, 2020) — Underscoring a commitment to the mental health and well-being of all students, University of Kentucky Provost David W. Blackwell announced today that UK is hiring additional personnel for the UK Counseling Center and the UK Disability Resource Center.

The staff additions are part of several new investments being made in UK’s wellness initiatives.

A mental health task force, convened by President Eli Capilouto and Blackwell and led by faculty with deep expertise in areas such as mental health, also is continuing to work on long-term recommendations and additional areas for investment.

“Continued investments in the well-being of our students and our entire campus community are essential to our goal of being a community of belonging for everyone — a place where our students can explore and achieve their wildest ambitions,” Blackwell said. “The investments and additions we are now announcing are a series of steps in what will be a long-term and strategic effort designed to create an even stronger and more integrated approach to mental health and well-being.”

Specifically, Blackwell said, the new investments, totaling about $500,000 annually, include:

  • Two clinicians in the UK Counseling Center. The Counseling Center has added several counselors in the last few years, but more investment is needed to keep pace with the rising number of students being seen.
  • Two additional consultants in the UK Disability Resource Center, which has experienced consistent increases in the number of students seeking accommodations.
  • A case manager to serve the institution’s Community of Concern, which provides support for students and employees in crisis.
  • Two academic coaches, who will work with students to address academic anxiety concerns.
  • A pilot program that will launch this spring to extend service hours at a number of student wellness-related offices. More on that initiative will be announced next semester.
  • Question, Persuade and Refer (QPR) Training for all faculty and staff.
  • The creation of a campuswide communication and marketing effort to better inform the community of resources around mental health, well-being and basic needs. A new basic needs website, debuted earlier this semester, serves as a one-stop virtual shop for students to explore resources at the university.

The short-term investments, Blackwell said, were the product of a Mental Health Action Team within the Office of Student and Academic Life, led by Associate Provost for Academic and Student Affairs Kirsten Turner.

The action team was charged with recommending immediate steps to address mental health and well-being needs on campus and is made up of professionals and administrators within the Counseling Center, Disability Resource Center and Violence Intervention and Prevention Center, as well as the Offices of Enrollment Management, Student Affairs and Student Wellness, among others.

At the same time, the mental health task force appointed by Capilouto and Blackwell is chaired by Dean Donna Arnett of the College of Public Health, as well as Margaret Pisacano, associate general counsel and director of risk management for UK HealthCare.

Under their leadership, task force members are examining national trends and the institution’s data with respect to mental health and well-being issues to help make additional recommendations. The task force will issue its final report in the coming months, but preliminary recommendations include such items as improving faculty and staff training, considering unique offerings for graduate students, and allocation of resources in addition to the short-term investments mentioned previously.

The creation of the task force followed an in-depth discussion among senior administrators and UK Board of Trustees members in 2019 about the issues surrounding mental health and well-being among students at UK. Data that Capilouto and Blackwell shared with the board demonstrates that rates of suicide, depression, anxiety and other mental health and well-being issues largely track trends at other universities.

Moreover, the data underscores the national scope of the challenge related to these issues, with much higher rates of suicide being reported by older adults, particularly males, as well as high rates of anxiety and depression.


“The wellness of our students — and our campus community — is everyone’s responsibility,” said Andrew Smith, assistant provost for student health and well-being. “UK’s investments in people and programs demonstrate its commitment now and in the future to the well-being of our students.”

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.