UT Southwestern and Paul Quinn College fill gap in student mental health services


For many students at Paul Quinn College, a historically African American, liberal arts institution in Dallas, the journey toward higher education comes with a unique set of cultural and environmental challenges. Among them is the need for mental health services that help students not only navigate common stressors associated with college life, but also address any past and present trauma associated with their home environments. When those services don’t exist, the ability to help those students becomes even more difficult.

In recognizing how critical meeting this need was to his students’ overall success, Dr. Michael Sorrell, President of Paul Quinn College, reached out to UT Southwestern Medical Center for help. Leadership in Education and the Department of Psychiatry didn’t hesitate to respond, and the result was the establishment of the first mental health services program in the college’s history.

“Michael Sorrell is a heroic figure – in fact, I regard him as an urban Schweitzer. His vision, grit and commitment to providing a quality higher education to impoverished, inner-city youth are remarkable and I thought that a substantive relationship between Paul Quinn College and UT Southwestern would be a perfect scenario for leveraging opportunity to mission,” said Dr. Charles Ginsburg, Professor, Vice Provost, and Senior Associate Dean for Education at UT Southwestern, which is recognizing its 75th anniversary this year.

“So, I introduced him to Dr. Carol Tamminga and Dr. Preston Wiles with the idea that a mental health program at Paul Quinn would benefit the kids, and would be a terrific learning opportunity for our residents and students. I am proud that the program has more than met all of our expectations.”

Only about one-quarter of African Americans seek mental health care, compared to 40 percent of whites, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. However, according to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience serious mental health problems such as major depression, suicide, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than the general population. Reasons for this disparity include distrust from inadequate healthcare, cultural and spiritual norms, and socioeconomic factors.

At Paul Quinn – where about 40 percent of the student body consists of young adults from urban, poverty-stricken areas of cities such as Oakland, Chicago, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Memphis, and Detroit – those factors collide in potentially catastrophic ways.

“The first year that we recruited students out of Chicago, I went to Chicago myself. I know how many of those students were in schools where schoolmates were shot that year and it was a staggering number,” Dr. Sorrell said. “So, our students were hurting. That translated into their behavior at the institution. It affected the student body. It affected the staff, and there was a very real need to meet this problem head on because their mental health needs were preventing them from accessing the academic opportunities we created.”

In the new clinic, UT Southwestern psychiatry residents offer students medication management and individual counseling services four hours each week, treating everything from anxiety and depression to substance abuse and trauma as part of their clinical rotation overseen by psychiatry faculty members. Dr. Jessica Moore has spearheaded the program since its inception during her training as a third- and fourth-year psychiatry resident. Now, as a child and adolescent psychiatry fellow, she focuses on student and faculty engagement programming. She says the impact of the program on everyone involved has been remarkable.

“Black mental health has been something that’s been really important to me. As a black woman, being able to walk onto a black campus and having a lot of the students not only meet a physician for their first time, but also get the opportunity to have a black psychiatrist was wonderful,” Dr. Moore said. “I’ve seen a ton of growth on campus from the faculty and from each individual student. They’ve been incredibly open to hearing about mental health and incredibly open to changing the way that we think about mental health. In addition to meeting their health needs, part of our job is reducing the stigma and encouraging people to realize how successful they can be if they get whatever mental health challenges they’re facing addressed.”

As the UT Southwestern-Paul Quinn partnership continues to grow, most likely will the need for services. A 2014 survey from the National Survey of College Counseling Centers reported that 52 percent of their clients had severe psychological problems such as anxiety disorders and clinical depression, an increase from 44 percent in 2013. In preparation for this growth, future plans for the partnership include additional clinic hours, group therapy options, and expansion of holistic services such as yoga and stress management tools.

However, for Dr. Sorrell, the possibilities are infinite. “What the future holds for both Paul Quinn College and UT Southwestern is we’re just warming up. At Paul Quinn, we’re about to expand to a national model of urban work colleges and part of that national model is addressing the needs of under-resourced urban communities. Well you can’t change people’s economic circumstances if you don’t understand those people. Thank you to UT Southwestern. Thank you to the doctors at UT Southwestern.  Thank you for being true partners. Thank you for loving my students, and thank you for always going above and beyond whatever it was that we were supposed to be doing to be the institution that we need and, in effect, be the institution that this community needs.”

Dr. Charles Ginsburg holds the Marilyn R. Corrigan Distinguished Chair in Pediatric Research.

Dr. Carol Tamminga is Professor and Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry, and holds the Lou and Ellen McGinley Distinguished Chair in Psychiatric Research and the Communities Foundation of Texas, Inc. Chair in Brain Science.

Dr. Preston Wiles is Professor of Psychiatry and holds the Drs. Anne and George Race Professorship of Student Psychiatry.