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Jimmy Payne Foundation Supports Expanded Mental Health Services for USM Graduate Students

Mon, 10/26/2020 - 15:41pm | By: David Tisdale

A grant targeting the mental health needs of graduate students will soon be used to complement existing services provided in this area by The University of Southern Mississippi (USM).

The USM Graduate School recently received a $50,000 award from the Jimmy Payne Foundation, said Dr. Alan Thompson, associate dean of the Graduate School, who authored the proposal to secure the funds.

“We are so pleased to receive this generous support from the Jimmy Payne Foundation, and extend our sincere appreciation to his family for selecting the proposal for funding,” Dr. Thompson said. “The grant will allow graduate students with pressing or unique mental health needs to receive specialized medical and related therapeutic services at absolutely no cost whatsoever, following an in-house evaluation by our own highly-qualified Student Counseling Services (SCS) staff.”

Dr. Thompson said he initially learned about the varied and pressing mental health needs of USM students through his previous service on the university’s CARES (Campus Action Referral and Evaluation Service) team. That experience helped shape his understanding of student needs and access procedures.

“As both the semester and academic year progress, the need for mental health services on campus significantly increases but the staffing level remains constant,” Dr. Thompson said. As a result, “they (SCS) can get booked up very fast, and even though an initial needs assessment can be completed relatively quickly the follow-up counseling sessions themselves may take a while to schedule.

“In light of this condition, the grant will be used to deliver mental health services to those who are in need of urgent or unique forms of care. At the same time, it will provide SCS staff with some scheduling relief by being able to refer clients to other experienced providers in the local community.

“By the time someone realizes they need help, they may not have the luxury of waiting several days or even weeks to be seen,” Dr Thompson continued. “This will allow graduate students, where certain needs exist, to be seen more quickly by an off-campus provider.”

The Jimmy Payne grant will help fund community counseling services provided by off-campus licensed mental health providers, as well as brief outpatient psychiatric treatment and medication management. When a student is referred to one of the approved providers, the grant covers the student’s portion of the visit. Students are still encouraged to file the visit with their insurance company, for two reasons: first, doing so helps meet their deductible for other medical services more quickly; secondly, it helps conserve the grant funds so that a larger number of students can benefit from the program.

Dr. Thompson has been working with April Estill Lomax, LCSW, director of the SCS; Casey Johnson, LMSW, a mental wellness counselor at the SCS; and Dr. Michael Madson, a counseling psychology professor in the USM School of Psychology and head of its Behavior and Addiction Research Lab, through the Graduate Student Mental Health Coalition to help make that student population aware of available resources, should they be needed.

“SCS collaborates with students and other campus and local community providers to access points of care based on students’ current needs,” said Lomax. “This collaboration offers opportunities for students to have various points of access for care depending on need, with little to no cost to the student.”

Johnson says the grant’s purpose fits well into the model of free services offered to any USM student.

“The grant will help alleviate the scheduling pressure we tend to experience in the fall and spring when service requests increase,” Johnson said.

Last fall, the SCS launched an evidence-based, stepped-care approach to assessing student mental healthcare needs. This model has shown to be effective in helping students receive the most appropriate type and level of care they need.

Under this approach, students first receive a free 30-minute assessment from SCS staff, at which time a determination is made regarding the most effective form of treatment for the issue(s) at hand. These treatments, Johnson said, can range from workshops, to group counseling, or one-on-one sessions.

The SCS also offers a voucher program for referrals to the USM Behavioral Health Clinic and the Marriage and Family Therapy Clinic on campus, both of which offer services at nominal fees based upon a sliding scale.

“The Coalition is a great collaboration among several groups on campus who are focused on enhancing the mental health services available to graduate students,” Dr. Madson said of his work with campus colleagues and units. “Graduate students have unique needs from undergraduate students, and as a coalition our goal is to better understand and meet those needs. This multidisciplinary approach will help to expand the availability of services for our valued graduate students.”

Through the Moffitt Health Center Behavioral Health Services, USM also offers several virtual group-based workshops focused on managing different stressors and problems. It also offers alcohol and drug counseling to those who may have ongoing struggles or who are in recovery from addiction. “These programs were developed to complement existing services and help graduate students manage certain aspects of their lives that may otherwise negatively impact their personal, professional, or academic pursuits,” Dr. Madson continued.

For information about SCS and its services, or to schedule an assessment, call 601.266.4829 (business hours) or 601.606.4357; or email; or visit the SCS website at