New program encourages healthy behavior for college students

LINDSBORG, Kan.—As college students return to schools this fall, there is renewed interest in ensuring their health and wellness. This includes managing risky behaviors like drug use and excessive drinking, which are the most common health issues on college campuses.­This semester, students at Bethany College in Lindsborg will have extra resources to make sure they stay healthy. These resources include mental health and substance abuse counseling services via telemedicine, a technology that allows the student and mental health provider to meet over a secure video conferencing connection.

“Students who avoid substance abuse treatment often do so because of a lack of access to counseling services or because of stigmatization,” said Les Sperling, chief executive officer of the Central Kansas Foundation. “Telemedicine helps us overcome these barriers by providing a safe, confidential connection with a licensed counselor in a neutral environment.”

The counseling services are free to Bethany students, because of grant funding through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The grant was awarded to the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City and the Central Kansas Foundation in Salina to improve substance abuse prevention and treatment among rural college students.

“Our goal is to identify those students that are high-risk early and assist them so they can stay in school,” said Eve-Lynn Nelson, Ph.D., psychologist at KU Medical Center. Nelson said many studies have examined alcohol and drug abuse on college campuses, but those studies haven’t focused on colleges in rural communities.

“Students attending college in rural towns face unique challenges in substance abuse treatment and prevention. Our project addresses those challenges,” said Nelson, who is principal investigator on the grant.  

Bethany College is the first to offer counseling through the three-year project. The project will expand to rural colleges across the state and add a substance abuse prevention component, using social media and virtual worlds. The project is a collaboration between KU Medical Center’s Center for Telemedicine and Telehealth and Area Health Education Centers, the Central Kansas Foundation, and rural Kansas colleges, including Bethany College.

About the University of Kansas Medical Center: The University of Kansas Medical Center is a nationally-recognized biomedical research center with educational programs in the Schools of Health Professions, Medicine, and Nursing. KU Medical Center partners with communities in all 105 Kansas counties to improve the health of the state.  

About the Central Kansas Foundation: Central Kansas Foundation (CKF) is a Salina, Kan.-based non-profit organization that provides high-quality, affordable alcohol and drug abuse treatment and prevention services in a safe and comfortable environment.

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