By DONOVAN HARRELL
Pitt’s Care and Resource Support Team, or CARS, has seen an overall increase in student referrals over the years.
While the CARS Team, headed by Care Manager Mary Bigante, helps Pitt students find resources for more than just mental-health related issues, this increase in referrals coincides with nationwide trends of increasing amounts of college students struggling with mental health issues and seeking treatment.
- For students dealing with an immediate emergency, contact the Pitt Police at 412-624-2121
- Resolve Crisis network: 1-888-796-8226
- CARS Care Manager: 412-624-5756 or PittCares@pitt.edu
During their time at Pitt, students may struggle with a variety of academic, health, welfare or safety issues. That’s where the CARS team steps in — to help connect students to various resources, such as the University Counseling Center, when they find themselves dealing with issues that don’t require immediate emergency medical attention.
“Students working with me know that I’m the person to come to you when they need direction, when they need support,” Bigante said of the student feedback she’s gotten for CARS. “But they also know I’m the person that’s going to give it to them straight.”
These services have been offered for roughly five years, Bigante said, through a more informal team initially. Pitt created the care manager role until fall 2014, and Bigante, who has nearly 30 years of experience in social work, was brought on in spring 2015 to fill the position full time. By fall 2015, the team was rebranded as CARS.
Since then, multiple team liaisons, spread across academic centers and departments, and the rest of the 22-member CARS team have been able to assist students dealing with non-emergency crises.
“I have to tell you that we’re constantly re-evaluating things,” Bigante said. “But when I first came in, it was really an initiative primarily for undergraduate students. And then, you know, we started getting referrals and outreach from graduate programs, and so — no reason not to include everybody.”
The idea behind using liaisons, she said, was based off a strategy used in adolescent treatment called a “wraparound,” where all the stakeholders who have worked with a student come together to try and figure out the best way to help the student, Bigante said.
And students, nationwide, are seeking out more treatment. A report released in November by the American Psychological Association found that from 2007 to 2017, mental health diagnoses among college students increased from 22 percent to 36 percent and treatment for mental illnesses increased from 19 percent to 34 percent.
Bigante credits these trends and Pitt’s formalization of the student referral, communication and follow-up processes to the steady increase in referrals CARS has seen over the years. However, she declined to give a specific percentage of referral increases because she’s still examining data for a comparative outcome study.
The addition of the CARS web page this year helped increase visibility for the team, she said, and she’s also given multiple presentations this fall to various members of the Pitt community, including Staff Council, the School of Nursing and the Career Center.
“We've worked hard to educate the Pitt community about how to refer and assist students in obtaining resources and support,” Bigante said. “I see a number of faculty and staff utilizing CARS as a resource to assist them with the student concerns. And again, I'd like to see that increase.”
Bigante is expecting to give more presentations to the Pitt community in the spring term. There also are plans to add a second care manager to assist with the workload, a position which Bigante hopes will be filled sometime in the spring.
Dean of Students Kenyon Bonner, who works closely with the CARS team, said CARS provides an invaluable resource to students.
“As dean of students, our students’ safety and well-being is a priority,” Bonner said in an email. “The CARS team is a multidisciplinary network of professional staff from across our campus who leverage their expertise to identify and support students who are struggling and need help. This group of dedicated and caring staff provide invaluable support to our University community and play an important role in our students’ success inside and outside the classroom.”
Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-383-9905.