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There’s a new incentive for institutions to create more mental health programs.

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In a first-of-its-kind arrangement, United Educators is partnering with The Jed Foundation (JED) to motivate institutions to implement mental health programs on their campuses.

Colleges that launch a program designed by JED, a nonprofit devoted to emotional health and suicide prevention, will receive a discount on their premiums from United Educators, an insurance company owned and governed by 1,600 K-12 and higher education member institutions.

At the college level, the JED Campus program offers two iterations: a four-year plan and a shorter, 18-month JED Campus Fundamentals program. In the four-year program, institutions create a team of administrators, faculty, staff and students to examine mental health on campus; conduct a student mental health survey; complete a self-assessment; and create a strategic plan to address mental health concerns. The Fundamentals program is similar but requires less engagement and time on the institutions’ part.

“When a school implements a comprehensive approach to mental health, that means that essentially, they’re implementing a culture of carrying a mental health safety net,” said John MacPhee, executive director and CEO of JED. “These are the kinds of systems that we help schools put into place, and these are the kinds of systems and culture and approaches that mitigate risks on a campus over all.”

Of United Educators’ 1,600 members, 900 already participate in the Risk Management Premium Credit Program, which allows institutions to earn credit on their renewal premiums by conducting specific risk-management activities, said Sarah Braughler, UE’s vice president of risk management. Those activities now include implementing a JED mental health program, as well as training supervisors on workplace harassment and teaching employees about common causes of accidents and falls.

Braughler said mental health issues on campus aren’t only a risk-management challenge but also a challenge for the insurance industry and society at large.

“We hope at United Educators that [this partnership] makes a meaningful difference for students on campus,” Braughler said. “We know there’s a need. The data tells us there’s a need. Institutional leaders say it’s a focus, and so we’re looking for better outcomes for students, and I think the JED program has a record of success.”

For incorporating a JED mental health program, institutions receive a credit of either 4 or 6 percent of their premium, depending on how the policy is structured, Braughler said. For a four-year college, the JED Campus program costs $42,000 and Fundamentals is $14,000, MacPhee noted; for two-year institutions, it’s $36,500 for the full program and $14,000 for the abbreviated one.

“If you think that in many instances these policies are hundreds of thousands of dollars, [the credit] is a significant dollar amount,” Braughler said. “And in some cases, it may cover the entire cost of the JED program. In others it may defray part of the cost, and again just provide an incentive to take the initiative to move forward with the program.”

MacPhee said the partnership couldn’t have come at a better time, since many students face lingering mental health issues stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There are a number of college students who are struggling with depression, anxiety and isolation,” MacPhee said. “And this has been a problem that’s been in place for years, but COVID aggravated it by forcing isolation and uncertainty and grief and loss on so many students. So the timing really couldn’t be more urgent and more necessary than to do this right now.”

Braughler added that many of UE’s member institutions have shown interest in boosting mental health initiatives on campus.

“I think the concept of wellness has really caught on at institutions,” Braughler said. “And there’s a lot of resources and investment of time and of capital, so if we can channel some of that, I think people at institutions are looking for a solution.”

MacPhee said currently there are about 400 colleges using one of JED’s programs, and he hopes that the partnership with UE will encourage at least several dozen more to participate.

After implementing the JED Campus program, 76 percent of campuses treated student emotional health as a campuswide issue requiring involvement of multiple departments and stakeholders, compared to 57 percent at the start of the program, according to the 2020 JED Campus impact report. And 65 percent incorporated a strategic plan for student emotional health, compared to 26 percent prior to the program.

MacPhee noted that JED Campus also helped some institutions create a 24-7 crisis hotline for students and shortened wait times at campus counseling centers.

Victor Schwartz, the CEO and director of Mind Strategies, a mental health consulting agency, who used to work as the chief medical officer of JED, said the partnership is an important step in trying to mitigate the risks of mental illness.

“The JED Foundation has over the years developed a public health comprehensive model that attempts to lower the risk of self-harm and suicide on college campuses and has implemented that model through the JED Campus program,” Schwartz said. “United Educators is addressing liability concerns in higher education, and I think this partnership, which has been in discussion for a long time, is an acknowledgment that they believe this model is valid.”

And just as health insurance companies give benefits to individuals who avoid smoking, Schwartz said, UE’s partnership with JED signifies that colleges are doing the right thing in working to improve the mental health of their students.

“This has been necessary for a long time,” Schwartz said. “COVID has certainly amplified and intensified problems and is an added reason why it’s a good idea for campuses to do what they can to provide support and services, including the kinds of things that are recommended through the JED Campus program.”

(This story has been updated to reflect the proper capitalization of JED in describing the foundation's programs.)

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