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Dell Medical School, Austin Community College Team Up to Support Mental Health Needs

July 20, 2022

Students standing and sitting on a staircase at an ACC campus.

Photo courtesy: ACC District

Juggling school, work, relationships and newfound independence can make young adulthood a particularly challenging time. The years between ages 16 and 25 are also the period when many begin to experience mental health symptoms for the first time, yet the symptoms often go undiagnosed. To provide early intervention for young adults struggling to access mental health support in Central Texas, the Center for Youth Mental Health at Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin has teamed up with Austin Community College District (ACC) to launch a new mental health pilot called the Amplify Center.

Set to open this fall as part of a two-year pilot program, the Amplify Center will focus its first year on mental health services for at least 200 ACC students ages 18-29 at their Eastview Campus, located in a medically underserved part of Travis County. In collaboration with ACC’s Student Services team, students will receive mental health screenings and diagnostic assessments by mental health professionals and will have access to services such as individual counseling, peer support and resource navigation for connection to other community services. Eventually, the center aims to expand to include additional services at more ACC locations and other community locations in Travis County.

“Young adulthood doesn’t fit well into our existing mental health care systems,” said Deborah Cohen, Ph.D., a Dell Med assistant professor and Amplify Center executive director. “Our current mental health system was created to support adults who are already living with chronic mental illness. A young adult usually can’t access those services unless they are in crisis or have a run-in with the police. We need better solutions for this age group than what’s currently in place,” said Cohen.

Students identified as having more acute mental health care needs will be referred to Integral Care, Travis County’s public mental health care provider and an Amplify Center collaborator. 

The Center for Youth Mental Health within Dell Med’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences envisions a mental health system that truly meets the developmental needs and goals of adolescents and young adults. It was established through a grant from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. The Amplify Center is the result of nearly five years of community brainstorming to implement a model to fill a significant gap in care.

“The Center for Youth Mental Health has collaboratively worked with community providers to propose a creative solution to address the gap in the care continuum for young adults,” said Kathleen Casey, Ph.D., a senior director of clinical innovation and development at Integral Care. “We hope this pilot is able to expand and fulfill unmet needs in our community.”

Love, Tito’s, and Twin Liquors also donated funds to initiate this pilot. The Center for Youth Mental Health is actively exploring additional donors to expand the number of individuals served through this initiative.

According to data from the U.S. Surgeon General, in December 2021 the nation saw approximately 6,600 deaths by suicide among 10- to 24-year-olds. It’s the second most likely cause of death, and young adults are at the greatest risk.

“These numbers are startling and disturbing, and the pandemic hasn’t helped. Students are having a harder time finding help and quality care,” said Shasta Buchanan, Ed.D., ACC vice chancellor of student affairs. “Our goal is to get more individuals the right care and when they need it — when their symptoms are in their infancy.”