New Steps to Enhance Mental Health and Wellness at MIT

September 02, 2015

To the members of the MIT community,

Our community talks frequently and openly about enhancing mental health and wellness here, and about how to best support one another. Today we write to tell you about what we have learned from you, how we are responding, and ways in which you can help.

Through a variety of channels—including conversations and emails, focus groups, and formal proposals—you have told us:

  1. Students would benefit from more counseling and support options;
  2. We should review our withdrawal and readmission policies to ensure that they are fair and supportive; and
  3. We should tap the experience, expertise, and creativity of our whole community to make the MIT community even stronger and healthier.
     

Last spring, we sent all MIT students the 2015 Healthy Minds Study, a national survey that more than 100 schools have participated in over the years. The findings reinforce what you told us, provide additional instructive guidance, and make clear that MIT is not unique; colleges across the country are confronting similarly complex student health and well-being issues.

For example, 23% of MIT respondents and 32% of national respondents report being diagnosed with one or more mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, a learning disability, or an eating, substance abuse, or attention disorder. (You can view more of the results here and share your thoughts at healthyminds@mit.edu.)

In light of this information, today we are announcing a combination of immediate steps and a long-term, campus-wide initiative. Here is what we are doing, and how you can help:

We are increasing the number of staff who help students in need.
By the end of September, MIT Mental Health and Counseling Service (MH&C) will add two new full-time psychologists; Student Support Services (S3) has already added one new member to its staff and will hire one more this year.

We are opening a new, centrally located MH&C location for “Let’s Chat” drop-in consultations.
Starting September 22, a MH&C clinician will be available to students for informal, confidential 20-minute consultations from 1 to 3 p.m., Tuesdays through Fridays in Room 8-316. For more urgent concerns, walk-in hours remain available at MH&C (Building E23, 3rd floor) weekdays from 2 to 4 p.m.

S3 is responding to student feedback by doubling the number of daily walk-in hours and making them a little later in the day. Students can stop by without an appointment every weekday between 10 and 11 a.m. and between 2 and 3 p.m.

Starting September 10, MH&C will offer an online appointment request form on the MIT Medical website. We hope this makes it easier to schedule an appointment.

To support students who seek counseling off campus, MH&C will identify and share the availability and specialties of local providers who are accepting new patients.

We are increasing the strength of peer counseling in residences and online.
This summer, Student Outreach and Support, in collaboration with MH&C, trained 32 new students to serve as “Peer Ears.” This more than triples the number of confidential peer-to-peer support providers available in MIT residence halls to help students navigate academic and social life at MIT. The additional trained students will allow the Peer Ears program to expand to Alpha Phi, Burton Connor, East Campus, Kappa Alpha Theta, McCormick Hall, MacGregor House, Maseeh Hall, New House, Next House, Pi Beta Phi, Random Hall, Senior House, and Sigma Kappa. This year, MH&C will launch a web-based portal for students to chat online with trained peers about their concerns.

We have started to review several areas of our withdrawal and readmission policies.
Students have expressed concerns about the clarity, transparency, and fairness of existing policies, and about the level of support for students who take time away and transition back to MIT. The Committee on Academic Performance and the Office of the Dean for Undergraduate Education will gather feedback from students and faculty, and recommend changes to bolster and clarify our policies this year.

To develop long-term, data-driven solutions and tap the innovative thinking of our community, we are launching a new effort called the MindHandHeart Initiative. Co-sponsored by us, and led by Professor Rosalind Picard and a steering committee of students, faculty, staff, and experts on student health and wellness, MindHandHeart will foster and launch promising new efforts, and effectively leverage existing support services.

MindHandHeart’s goal is clear: over time, we want members of our community to feel more comfortable asking for help when they need it, and we want to build a healthier, stronger community. Here is how you can help:

  • The MindHandHeart Innovation Fund is now accepting proposals from anyone in the community with an innovative wellness idea, such as last year’s successful TMAYD—or “Tell Me About Your Day”—bracelets.
  • The “Don’t struggle alone—it’s okay to ask for help” public awareness campaign is designed to help struggling students overcome the common but misplaced fear that they will be judged harshly for feeling overwhelmed and seeking help. Please display the postcards and posters, share your own experiences with stress and uncertainty, and help us get the word out.
  • MindHandHeart is seeking members for its working groups. We urge you to volunteer!
     

At MIT, we excel at collaborating on hard problems. By continuing to tap our passionate community spirit and innovative problem-solving skills, we are confident we can make progress and enhance mental health and well-being at MIT.

We look forward to you joining us in this work.

Sincerely,
Cynthia Barnhart
Chancellor

William Kettyle
Medical Director, MIT Medical