Mental and Behavioral Health
Posters calling on Harvard Law School to publicly release the findings of a student mental health survey were placed across campus last weekend as prospective Law School students visited campus for an admitted students weekend. The posters, addressed to prospective students, accused administrators of refusing to release the entire survey because of their reluctance to address mental health concerns on campus. “The administration is refusing to release – and actively covering up – data from this mental health survey, in part because they are trying to escape responsibility for their failing mental health support systems,” the posters read. “The student body and the broader public deserve to know how bad things are, and we must know to be part of any real conversation about change.”
In a large study published in Psychiatric Services, college students from minority groups demonstrated similar or lower rates of diagnosed psychiatric disorders than white peers; however, Asian/Pacific Islander and multiracial students reported significantly higher rates of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. These findings indicate that racial and ethnic minority students may have unidentified psychiatric disorders and thus may be a group at higher risk. According to study author Justin A. Chen, MD, MPH, the stigma of seeking help for psychiatric issues and lack of support services could inhibit college students’ ability to take care of their mental health.<
At a town hall at New York University with President Andrew Hamilton, discussion focused on the mental health struggles faced by foreign students, one month after a first-year international student died by suicide in his dorm room-the second undergraduate suicide this academic year. The event featured Jakiyah Bradley, the Alternate Senator at-Large for Students of Color and Students Experiencing Food Insecurity, Hüsniye Çöğür, Student Government President, Claire Liu, the Vice-Chair of the SGA’s Health & Wellness Committee, and Linda Mills, the Vice Chancellor and Senior Vice Provost for Global Programs and University Life. The speakers highlighted the numerous mental health support initiatives available across the university.
At the University of Virginia, peer health educators, a group of about 45 students who are trained in behavior change theory and health promotion, work to promote a positive culture of physical, spiritual and mental well-being. In an email to The Cavalier Daily, peer health educator Nicki Hussini said, “Peer education, in some instances, has shown to be more effective than adult education in establishing norms and changing attitudes towards various health behaviors. Being able to provide a level of understanding that even the most well intentioned adults may not be able to provide makes peer education a really valuable avenue for behavioral health change.”
The Harvard University Economics Department is taking steps to improve graduate students mental health in light of a survey conducted among Ph.D. students in the department which showed high percentages of anxiety and depression. Ph.D. candidate Matthew Basilico, who worked on the study, said the survey served as an important first step to addressing mental health issues in the field of economics. “People recognize this as an issue in economics. Even describing the problem and getting people’s attention focused on it has been a really important step,” Basilico said. He added that he thinks the department must continue to raise awareness, which can take the form of urging people to seek help for mental health issues and creating a more open culture for talking about personal problems. The department has worked to cultivate more personal advising relationships and peer support networks to increase openness and add another layer of support.
Cornell University will update its approach to clinical mental health services in the fall. Among the changes, students will be able to access mental health care when they need it, through 25-minute goal-focused counseling sessions that often can be scheduled the same day. Additionally, the length and number of sessions each student receives will be matched to that student’s needs and goals. The new model of care is an adaption of a system currently in place at Brown University that has been successful in supporting seamless and rapid access to mental health services. The Sophie Fund, an advocacy group focused on supporting mental health initiatives, called the plans disappointing” in a posted response. The Sophie Fund was founded by Scott MacLeod and Susan Hack, whose daughter Sophie Hack MacLeod ’14 died by suicide while on medical leave from Cornell.Though MacLeod and Hack supported the reforms, they said that information was missing from the announcement, including who will run the external review, whether they will make recommendations for reforms and what the scope of the internal review committee will be.
Last year, Big Red Resilience, an initiative dedicated to helping University of Nebraska-Lincoln students bounce back from the challenges and stresses of college life was launched, offering a wide range of mental health services. This school year the program was able to expand its offerings with the help of a federal grant from the Substance Abuse Mental Health Association (SAMSA). The grant has allowed Big Red Resilience to organize specialized mental health training sessions for students and staff members. The sessions, called “gatekeeper training,” are conducted through a method called REACH, which was developed by Ohio State University and teaches participants to: Recognize warning signs, Engage with empathy, Ask directly about suicide, Communicate hope and Help suicidal individuals to access care and treatment.
Researchers at the University of Iowa created a measure representing social connectedness that correlates positively with retention and graduation rates. The researchers measured social connectedness by collecting data on a semester’s worth of ID-card swipes at the dining hall – nearly a half million from about 4,000 students in the fall of 2009. Using ID-card swipes, the researchers calculated a meal-index, or m-index, which was the product of how many meals the students had – and with how many different people – as measured by how many times a student swiped his or her dining card within a minute of another student. To score a high m-index, a student has to have many meals with the same person, so a student who had 10 meals with 10 different students, for example, would have an m-index of 10, a high number indicating that the student was socially connected.
Harvard University’s Office of the Provost convened a task force on managing student mental health to begin to assess and respond to significant increases in both student self-reports of mental health issues and the subsequent use of related services. The task force is charged with examining how Harvard can best address the mix of academic, social, and institutional issues that have the potential to influence student mental health, while looking beyond traditional services toward a more holistic model of care. The Gazette spoke with the task force’s three chairs to discuss what they hope to bring to the table in their respective leadership roles and how they believe the effort can quickly begin to improve mental health services at Harvard while also planning for long-term change.