Entering college can be a difficult period of transition for many students as adjusting to new routines, responsibilities and surroundings can be an overwhelming experience. Additionally, recent studies have shown that the mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly significant for the current class of students.
To help address these challenges, Stony Brook University has contracted with TimelyCare, a comprehensive student-centered platform that offers on-demand access to mental health, medical care and health coaching through a culturally diverse provider network.
“Each student is unique and wants to relate to someone who understands them,” said Rick Gatteau, vice president for Student Affairs at Stony Brook. “TimelyCare brings our students a network that can address virtually any medical or mental health question they might have. We did a soft launch in the summer and it took off as the fall semester began.”
Since August 1, 2022, nearly 900 Stony Brook students have taken advantage of more than 2,200 TimelyCare engagements. Gatteau said the service, which is free to current undergraduate and graduate students, complements the range of assistance already available on campus.
24/7 Access is Key
“We have amazing counselors and healthcare providers on the ground that do this work, but the traditional brick-and-mortar, Monday-to-Friday, 9-to-5 access isn’t enough in 2023,” he said.
Illustrating the point, Gatteau reported that nearly half of the TimelyCare visits take place during evening hours or on weekends.
“This service provides 24/7 access,” he said. “That flexibility is more in line with what students need today.”
TimelyCare focuses exclusively on college students, providing services to more than 1 million of them nationwide. Whether students require medical care or mental health support, TimelyCare’s Virtual Clinic offers both on-demand care and scheduled appointments.
“We’ve gotten some valuable feedback already,” said Marisa Bisiani, assistant vice president of Student Health, Wellness and Prevention Services. “For example, we know that many students are seeking help in the evening and on weekends. We know that the number of appointments for counseling services is slightly higher than those of medical services. And we know that people are returning for second visits because our number of unique students is much less than the number of total visits. So they’re coming back, which also speaks to patient satisfaction.”
The data also revealed valuable demographic barometers.
“When you look at usage across our campus population, from a racial ethnic breakdown it’s fairly consistent with what our population is,” said Bisiani.
Removing the Stigma
Bisiani noted that use of TimelyCare among some demographics was noticeably higher than their representation at Stony Brook, something Gatteau attributes to the cultural stigma that exists in some communities that is associated with seeking care.
“Over the last decade, specifically within the United States, it’s become less stigmatized to seek mental healthcare,” said Gatteau. “But we do see some stigmas within certain communities. We’ve had students say, ‘my family cannot know about this.’ It’s looked upon as a sign of weakness. So that’s something we’re very aware of. TimelyCare gives those students a private way to seek care.”
Bisiani said these needs have always existed, adding that “the use of telehealth services has helped lift the stigma of having to come to an office to seek care, and that has helped students become more comfortable in proactively seeking help.”
Both Gatteau and Bisiani noted that women use the services at a much higher rate than their male counterparts at Stony Brook.
“That’s generally true of services overall, but we’d like to see that more closely reflect our male/female ratio, which is around 50/50,” said Bisiani. “We’ve already used creative ways to attract more men to use the services, especially health coaching. To try to more effectively reach them we’ve collaborated with Stony Brook’s Department of Campus Recreation and implemented marketing programs.”
Creating Good Habits
Health Coaching is TimelyCare’s scheduled appointment service to help students develop or maintain optimal sleep, nutrition, exercise, weight and stress management habits.
“’Help’ means something different to each college student,” said Gatteau. “It could be very informal as in ‘I had a bad day,’ or ‘I got a bad test score,’ or ‘my boyfriend or girlfriend broke up with me.’ For others it can mean significant anxiety or depression. There are many different layers of help, and TimelyCare offers different resources for the degree of acuity. There’s a service for everyone.”
Nearly two-thirds of student interactions take place through scheduled counseling or TalkNow, a 24/7, 365-day-a-year on-demand telehealth service managed by TimelyCare’s behavioral health professionals. TalkNow offers mental and emotional support, health literacy guidance and crisis management service.
Another benefit of TimelyCare is that it can easily accommodate students who are not on the main campus.
Gatteau said a common thread he sees is that many students enter Stony Brook needing to develop stronger coping skills.
“Many of our students have never gotten a bad grade and they’ve never needed to learn to process failure and come back from that,” he said. “In a way we’re trying to teach something that was never taught. But TimelyCare is a cutting-edge approach that follows national best practices and we’re encouraged by what we’ve seen so far.”
Learn more about TimelyCare at the Student Health Services website.
— Robert Emproto