Task force recommends 8 ways to improve emotional wellness – Harvard Gazette
After completing a 15-month investigation, a special student mental health task force this week published eight recommendations on how the university can improve emotional well-being on campus by addressing a mix of academic, social and institutional issues .
The Student Mental Health Management Task Force was convened in February 2019 by Provost Alan M. Garber to begin assessing and responding to significant increases in both student self-reports of mental health problems and subsequent use of related services – Improvements that reflected a national trend in higher education.
“The task force thoroughly examined the challenges faced by our students even before the COVID-19 pandemic changed their lives,” said Garber. “The needs highlighted in this report – for better connection, wider acceptance and self-care help, more accessible support in dealing with everyday problems and mental illness, and better coordination of mental health strategies across the university – are made even more urgent by the insecurity and isolation everyone is now experiencing. At a time when mental health and well-being are more urgent than ever, the report advises us of steps we can take now. “
The task force began its work by examining existing data in order to gain a solid understanding of the nature of mental health problems among Harvard students. The group itself was large and consisted of 46 people from all schools and units of the university as well as external experts. And it was diverse, including psychologists, psychiatrists, academics, running institution experts, and professionals providing one-on-one support to students with mental health problems, undergraduate and graduate students, and faculty members.
“Our research confirmed that Harvard students were suffering from increasing levels of depression and anxiety disorders, as well as high and widespread anxiety, depression, loneliness and other illnesses,” wrote co-chairpersons Mario Small, Emma Dench and Matt Nock. In addition, students reported high levels of stress, overwork, peer-to-peer measurement concerns, and an inability to maintain healthy coping skills. Extracurricular activities have often been another source of competition and stress rather than total relief. Graduate and professional students reported high levels of isolation, uncertainty about academic and professional prospects, and among graduate students. Programs, financial uncertainty, and concerns about their relationship with consultants. Students of all levels reported confusion about when, how, and where to seek help with potential mental health problems. The problems we identified weren’t universal, but were widespread enough to merit action. “
After identifying and describing the scope of the problems, the task force focused on suggesting improvements. Although the project was not designed to be ongoing, the report highlights the need to continually examine the evolving needs of the community and the resources required to do so.
The recommendations include:
- Assignment of a small team in the Provost’s office to work on university-wide student affairs. This team would coordinate the implementation of the recommendations across the university and facilitate further investigation of issues where the task force could only scratch the surface.
- Launch of a year-long campaign focusing on mental health awareness and cultural change with the aim of creating an environment in which students feel encouraged and empowered to care for their mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.
- Establish an annual messaging program that focuses on the core elements of the first campaign.
- Create a committee to explore ways to make Counseling and Mental Health Services (CAMHS) more accessible. This includes further exploring waiting times and recent efforts to attract diverse and culturally sensitive counseling staff, while also exploring the potential of digital assessments and interventions.
- Exploring how the university can address holistic issues of mental health, sexual climate, inclusivity, isolation, and a sense of belonging.
- Addressed institutional service gaps that may have resulted from recent organizational changes. The task force highlighted the importance of CAMHS working closely with the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) new academic resource center to ensure a seamless flow between the two units.
- Create a committee in FAS to study how to reduce the stress caused by competing for entry into extracurricular activities. The report finds that the practice of “comping” for clubs and after-school activities emerged as the main stressor for undergraduate students throughout the research. And while some competition may be required for certain clubs, there is room to make it less stressful and encourage the creation of uncompetitive alternatives.
- Provide clear guidance and support in mentoring faculty and PhD students to reduce the potential stress caused by counselor-counselor relationships. The report describes the importance of these connections for the careers of PhD students and recommends various measures including 1) adopting an advisory structure that distributes power rather than concentrating it on one advisor; 2) Clarify expectations by developing clear guidelines for “rights and responsibilities” and expectations in the workplace; 3) Promotion of mentor training for the faculty; 4) consider how recruitment, promotion and annual evaluation processes can be used to encourage better mentoring; and 5) consideration of the mental health implications of student financial needs.
The task force last met as a group in March. Much has changed in the past few months, including the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and the events sparked by the death of George Floyd. These, along with other unanticipated events, are expected to further reshape the mental health landscape at Harvard and only increase the need for innovative programming.
“It is clear to us that the dramatic disruptions to social life caused by the pandemic are affecting and, in some cases, exacerbating the problems we have identified,” the co-chairs wrote. “Economic stress, high unemployment, social isolation, loss of life and many other conditions lead to grief, stress, loneliness, despair and much more. The university has and must react in the short and long term. “And while the Task Force completed its work ahead of the global spread of COVID-19, the Co-Chairs believe our recommendations will prove essential for the university to implement as part of any response, not just to understanding To contribute to the landscape in which they find themselves The crisis has reached us, but also to inform how the necessary steps must be taken to return to a certain level of normalcy. “
“Our current challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic further underscore the role mental health and well-being can play in the student experience,” said Giang Nguyen, executive director of Harvard University Health Services. “We all – students, faculties, and staff – face these challenges in different ways. As a community, it is so important for us to support each other even when we are not in the same physical space. Students from marginalized communities are particularly affected – our BIPOC [Black, indigenous, and people of color]LGBTQ, international students, first generation students, low income students and other minority groups need targeted support. The work of the task force is more important than ever. “