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Jan. 22, 2015 Volume 36, No. 16

Students in crisis can call Counseling Center 24/7 for immediate help

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ProtoCall after-hours service offers instant response and timely follow-ups

Simplifying a process dependent on clear information offers many advantages, especially when urgency is paramount.

On Tuesday, the University of Missouri unveiled an after-hours mental health crisis service that offers quick and compassionate response to students in need. And it’s simple. Students can call MU Counseling Center’s phone number — 573-882-6601 — anytime to talk to a trained mental health professional.

“There will never be a time when a student can’t access the Counseling Center,” said Christy Hutton, the center’s outreach and communications coordinator.

To offer the after-hours service, MU has contracted with ProtoCall, a leading provider in third-party telephonic behavioral health services.

ProtoCall offers phone-counseling services to employee assistance programs, behavioral health centers, and university and college counseling centers. It has phone centers in Portland, Oregon; Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Unlike many similar services, the staff is not volunteers but licensed mental health professionals.

As of fall 2014, the service had contracted with 75 higher-education counseling centers, serving an estimated 1.5 million students, said Anne Meyer, associate and clinical director of the MU Counseling Center.

Of course, MU students have other crisis lines available to them, such as Missouri Crisis Line, National Lifeline and Trevor Lifeline. But the ProtoCall service comes with additional benefits: immediate response by ProtoCall professionals and timely follow-up options from Counseling Center staff.

ProtoCall counselors answer the phone immediately — no caller is placed on hold — and identify as representatives of the University of Missouri. Besides their working knowledge of the campus, the counselors have experience in issues concerning university students, such as distress over grades, homesickness, feelings of inadequacy, parental relations and peer social issues. They are also trained to handle emergency situations.

When students call local and national hotlines, the Counseling Center is not alerted of the call. With ProtoCall, Counseling Center professionals learn of overnight calls through ProtoCall’s customized secure database, where contracted professionals have logged details of the conversation.

Without this feature, university professionals might not know that a student was habitually in crisis. “This gives us the option of responding quickly to the student,” Hutton said. “No other crisis line gives us that option.”

ProtoCall does not replace local and national hotlines, emergency agencies or 911. Instead, it offers MU an additional tool to serve students, Hutton said. And it’s simple. Students need only to call the Counseling Center 24/7 for immediate help.

“We are trying to come at this in every way to make sure that if a student needs something, in one form or another, they have access to it,” Hutton said.