University President, Anthony Monaco poses for a portrait in his office on May. 4. (Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily)

University-wide task force to review student mental health and resources

A new university-wide task force dedicated to student mental health is being launched this fall, according to an email announcement from University President Anthony Monaco on Sept. 9. The task force will be co-chaired by Monaco and Paul Summergrad, chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the Tufts School of Medicine and psychiatrist-in-chief at the Tufts Medical Center.

According to Summergrad, the task force will conduct a comprehensive review and assessment of the state of student mental health across the undergraduate, graduate and professional programs on all of Tufts’ campuses. It will then assess the mental health services and resources available to students as well as relevant university policies and practices, Summergrad told the Daily in an email.

“We want to pay careful attention to the normative personal development of students, as well as to the faculty and university’s role in supporting their development,” Summergrad said.

Summergrad explained that the task force aims to identify any possible barriers to accessing mental health services, as well as potential areas for additional collaboration and enhancements to ensure that the university and its staff are meeting students’ needs and providing a healthy and supportive community.

“The [task force] will review expert opinion in the context of national and Tufts-specific trends in student mental health and its promotion and care,” Summergrad said.

He added that the committee would also analyze quantitative and qualitative data about students’ experiences and engage members of the Tufts community through focus groups.

The work of the task force will take place during this academic year and will conclude with the release of a report next fall, Monaco told the Daily in an email.

Summergrad explained that this report would include detailed recommendations in the areas of education, outreach and prevention; services and care; and policies and practices in order to improve resources, services and support throughout Tufts.

“We will also try to be mindful that not all human and developmental challenges are clinical in nature and that our faculty, staff and University services [work to] provide an environment where creative young people can grow and achieve important personal goals,” Summergrad said.

Monaco anticipates that the task force will include two working groups, one focusing on undergraduate students and the other focusing on graduate and professional students.

“Our student populations across the university have different needs, challenges and circumstances that have led to different approaches to the resources and care available on the various campuses,” he said. “For example, undergraduate students and graduate students based on the Medford/Somerville campus have different services available onsite through Health and Wellness Services than students on our Health Sciences campuses in Boston and Grafton.”

Monaco added that student mental health is a major topic of discussion across colleges and universities nationwide, with media coverage and professionals highlighting the increasing use of and need for campus-based mental health resources.

Julie Ross, director of Counseling and Mental Health Service (CMHS), agreed.

“We are really pleased and not surprised that college mental health is a presidential priority,” she told the Daily in an email. “All recent data on the mental health of college students shows that this is a major concern on college campuses nationally.”

She added that she had been a part of initial conversations surrounding issues related to mental health due to her role with CMHS. According to Monaco, discussions about student mental health began with faculty and staff over the summer of 2015; efforts continued with additional members of the Tufts community and outside experts this summer.

“Now that the academic year is in full swing, we have started having background discussions with interested students, as well as a number of those active in efforts to promote mental health on the Medford/Somerville campus,” he said. “These background discussions have verified many of the same themes and concerns that have been raised anecdotally and in literature related to trends in student mental health nationwide.”

According to Monaco, the task force will include students, faculty and staff from across Tufts and will engage the broader Tufts community and relevant outside experts.

Danielle Mulligan, co-president of Active Minds, said that the student group – which aims to raise mental health awareness and promote positive policy change on campus – was approached by the administration to provide a student perspective on determining the major needs of student mental health on campus.

Mulligan and co-president Kari McNeil, both seniors, met with Jacklyn Varela, communications and project administrator in the Office of the President, to provide their opinions on ways the university could improve prevention, intervention and long-term support of students struggling with issues including school stress and mental illness, Mulligan told the Daily in an email.

“We provided feedback in all sorts of areas ranging from why it’s a problem that mental health and physical health buildings are separated on campus, the problems with student leader trainings in mental health … the lack of quality resources for students of color on campus and complications around students taking leave[s] of absence,” Mulligan said.

Mulligan said she was glad to see the university taking concrete steps to improve mental health services and resources on campus.

“Although we applaud the work that has been already done and CHMS[‘s] commitment to helping students on campus there is a lot more to be done,” she said.

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