UArizona Donors’ Gifts Give CALS Students Another Mental Health and Wellness Resource

Wednesday, October 13, 2021
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences partners with Togetherall, an online support community

Students in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences now have another avenue to get support for their mental health and well-being, thanks to gifts from two University of Arizona supporters.

The gifts totaling $15,000 have allowed the college to partner with Togetherall, an online community for people to share feelings anonymously and to support each other’s mental health. The service, which is free to CALS students and began this semester, is monitored 24/7 by licensed and registered mental health practitioners.

"This partnership with Togetherall exemplifies our ongoing commitment to ensuring the well-being and mental health of CALS students,” said Shane Burgess, Charles-Sander Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “The demands of academic and social life, of being away from home and family, are incredibly challenging. Thanks to the generosity and vision of our donors, we now have additional support to help our students succeed.”

Ryan Daily, life management counselor for CALS, said the Web-based program uses technology to provide students with self-help and peer-to-peer assistance, which he called basic but key steps in mental health support.

“We were looking at what other levels of care can we provide,” Daily said. “Not everyone needs therapy. And it’s been said regarding the growing mental health crisis in this country that you can’t hire your way out of this problem.”

Students who log into Togetherall can connect with others across the globe who are experiencing similar thoughts, feelings, or frustrations. They can record their thoughts in a journal or “post a brick,” a visual representation of what they are experiencing.

The service also allows students to identify and work toward wellness goals, while assessing their feelings and tracking progress. It provides self-paced online courses, chat rooms, and the opportunity to reach out to clinically managed and registered “wall guides” when additional support is needed. The guides do not provide therapy or counseling but can flag potentially dangerous situations and direct students to other resources.

“What is really special about this program is that it’s anonymous,” Daily said, adding that a lack of anonymity is a reason some people avoid getting help, because of stigmas that still surround mental health. “Another key component is that it’s really safe.”

The donors who made the gifts are Harley Higbie, a UArizona alum, and the John M. Simpson Foundation. Both have stepped up in the past year to support the college’s novel life management counseling program because they believe in the importance of increasing students’ access to mental health care, said Karen Hollish, director of development for CALS.

Togetherall typically partners with an entire institution, so having the program specific to just CALS sets the college apart, Daily said.

The partnership is the college’s latest effort to support its students. This past summer, a donor’s $1 million gift helped establish the CALS Learning Lab: Powered by the SALT Center, a program that provides free academic coaching and support, especially to students who have learning challenges. The gift also funded a part-time position within CALS to offer mental health and wellness services to the college’s students, in addition to what Daily has been providing to students since his hiring in 2019.

“These are investments in CALS students,” he said. “CALS is really a leader in life management support.”

He said factors driving the need for more mental health services include some of the unhealthy aspects of social media, a toxic political environment, and technological disruptions that cause unease about future career and earnings prospects.

“One of the biggest barriers … is people don’t recognize when to get care,” Daily said. “If you have a toothache or your ‘check engine’ light comes on, you know what to do. But the conversation is different with mental health. When we feel stress, some people say, ‘I’ll just live with it.’ I say, ‘When you feel stressed, get support.’”