Creighton Hires First Full-Time Psychiatrist

Creighton Hires First Full-Time Psychiatrist

By Blake Ursch

It doesn’t need to be said that there’s no shortage of stressors weighing on the minds of today’s college students.

An unprecedented global pandemic. A looming climate crisis. Social upheaval. A polarized and volatile political environment.

In this world, under these circumstances, mental health professionals such as Supriya Bhatia, MD, BA’01, are all the more critical.

This year, Bhatia joins Creighton University as its first full-time campus psychiatrist. In this role, she will meet with students who seek counseling and mental health care through Student Counseling Services.

“When I heard about the position, I felt like I would be able to offer a unique perspective, being both an adult psychiatrist and a child psychiatrist,” Bhatia says. “College students in particular are in a place in which they look like adults, but, inside, parts of them are still children. They’re still learning who they are and what they want out of life.”

The demand for mental health services on college campuses has spiked in recent years. The number of college students utilizing their schools’ mental health offerings grew an average of 30% between 2009 and 2015, while enrollment grew less than 6%, according to Penn State University’s Center for Collegiate Mental Health.

In addition, between 2007 and 2017, the suicide rate among young Americans aged 10 to 24, known as Generation Z, increased 56%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Nationally, the demand for mental health care for college students continues to grow at a rate that is difficult to keep up with through traditional models. Even before we were focused on all of our current challenges — the pandemic, racial injustices and various other global stressors — anxiety and depression have had a significant impact on today’s college student,” says Jennifer Peter, PsyD, senior director of Creighton’s Student Counseling Services. “Here at Creighton, we have seen a growth in the need for psychiatric and counseling care over the last several years.”

Student Counseling Services is open for students to receive individual and group counseling. The service aims to address student concerns, such as self-esteem, relationships, stress and anxiety, loneliness and depression, and provide students with tools for self-care. Previous campus psychiatrists worked on a part-time basis only.

As a board-certified psychiatrist, Bhatia will work with some of these students, helping them manage medications through collaboration with the Student Health Education and Compliance Office and the CHI Health Student Care Clinic.

The job, as she describes it, found her.

Bhatia’s Creighton roots run deep. She is the daughter of two Creighton faculty members: Shashi Bhatia, MBBS, and Subhash Bhatia, MBBS, both professors in the School of Medicine. In 2001, Supriya Bhatia finished her undergraduate studies at Creighton, having majored in psychology and Spanish.

She attended medical school at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and later completed a psychiatry residency at the University of California, Davis near Sacramento. She eventually returned to Omaha and has spent the last four years working in child and adolescent psychiatry at Boys Town.

“In medicine, what I had always enjoyed was making connections with people and then developing a long-term relationship with them,” Bhatia says. “No two people have the same story when it comes to depression, anxiety or the challenges they’ve experienced. Nobody has the same life. That’s what really attracted me to psychiatry.”

Leaving the families and children she’s come to know through her work at Boys Town is difficult, she says. But, “on the other hand, I felt like the transition to Creighton is going to be a good fit for me, because I’ll be able to work with people in a different phase of their lives, working on figuring out how to thrive in the current world.”

Young adults, Bhatia says, are in a difficult position when it comes to mental health care. Too old for child psychiatrists, but not yet adults, many college-aged students often get lost in the shuffle, relying on primary care doctors for mental health services, or simply not receiving care because they don’t know where to go, she says.

Especially given the challenging economic, environmental and social circumstances, Bhatia says she sees many young people experiencing anxiety, depression and, particularly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, social isolation.

“A lot of times, the circumstances are triggering something that’s already there. Some insecurity or sadness,” Bhatia says. “Because they’re already feeling lonely or more disconnected socially, they’re feeling more anxious, because of the lack of control they have around them.”

Which makes thorough and consistent care all the more important, Peter says.

“We are thrilled that Dr. Bhatia has joined our team,” she says. “She has a strong tradition in Creighton herself and understands firsthand the stress and challenges our students face. Dr. Bhatia understands Creighton’s mission and values and what it’s like to be part of our community. Having her with us full time will allow our team to continue to work collaboratively to make sure we are caring for our students optimally.”

“I’m just really excited to re-engage with the Creighton community,” Bhatia says. “It’s great to have the opportunity to help these students thrive. I’m really looking forward to it.”