Digital Online Mental Health Healthcare and Medicine Concept. ( via Shutterstock)
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Free mental health and counseling services will be available to students enrolled in state community colleges during the upcoming fall semester, the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system announced Monday.

The schools will offer unlimited access to an on-demand mental health support platform as part of a two-year contract with a telehealth company called TimelyMD. The services will cost about $659,000 over two years and will be paid through federal relief funding, according to a press release. Students also will have access to 12 scheduled counseling sessions per year.

In a statement, CSCU President Terrence Cheng said accessing mental health services has been a challenge for many community college students.

“By utilizing telehealth technology, students will now have the opportunity to easily and safely get the care they need from practitioners with specific expertise on meeting the unique needs of college students,” Cheng said. “This is a major expansion of mental health services, and it is sure to make the college experience more manageable for the students we serve.”

In general, mental health services at community colleges around the country are not as well documented as those available to students at four-year institutions. A 2016 study from the University of Michigan and University of Wisconsin-Madison called for more resources and attention to be paid to the mental health conditions at community colleges nationwide. The study found roughly half of surveyed community college students reported mental health conditions, but in some cases they were less likely to use services than their four-year counterparts.

“The relatively low mental health service usage rate estimated among community college students is likely related to the lack of campus mental health services,” the study concluded. “It seems clear that community colleges need more resources to address student mental health.”

In the meantime, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand for mental health services and put a strain on providers. 

In a press release, Connecticut State Community College interim President David Levinson said demand at state community colleges has increased in recent years. 

“We have taken some very important steps, including partnerships with local providers,” Levinson said. “However, this is the largest systemic investment to date and will provide much-needed access to critical health care services to all of our students.”