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MIT Provides Mental Health Services

David A. Mellis

MIT Medical’s Mental Health Department is one of the primary resources for MIT students in times of mental anxiety. The Med Center provides free counseling and therapy, a walk-in service, MedLinks, support groups, and crisis intervention among other services.

According to Peter Reich, Chief of Mental Health, approximately 700 students make use of the Med Center’s mental health services each year. Of these 700 students, about 80 percent make five or fewer visits, mostly for short-term counseling. Most students, Reich said, are looking for help with personal problems, which can often be aggravated by academic pressures.

Some students who require long-term counseling or hospitalization are referred to outside medical centers.

Counseling and therapy services

“Our mission as a service is to preserve function, get people back to functionality, and to enable them to function at as high a level as possible,” Reich said.

Students use the counseling services to discuss a variety of personal problems, said Reich. These include relationship troubles, problems at home, and other similar issues.

“I don’t think academic problems are our main source of patients,” Reich said.

Mental Health Services also offers a range of group therapy sessions. It offers a group for graduates, one for undergraduates, and a number of other groups for specific medical issues, such as cancer.

The wait time for an appointment depends on the urgency of the situation. In an emergency there is “zero wait” for an appointment, Reich said. Providing instant access in emergencies has been greatly simplified by the new walk-in service, offered by the Med Center every weekday from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. During that time, there is a Mental Health staffer free to see walk-in visitors. There is someone available, via pager, 24 hours a day, Reich said.

To make a scheduled appointment, students can call Mental Health Services at x3-2916. It is usually possible to get an appointment in less than a week, Reich said, although an appointment with a specific staff member can take up to four weeks.

All counseling or therapy appointments are free for all students, and there is no maximum number of visits per year.

In some cases, patients may require medication. Typically, the medications given are either anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications. With the extended student medical plan, prescription drugs are available with a $6 co-payment.

In addition, for students under the Extended MIT Student Health Plan, MIT will pay $35 per visit for up to 50 visits to an outside provider each year.

All visits, counseling confidential

Reich emphasized the confidentiality of visits to the Mental Health Services. Patient names are not revealed, even to parents or government agents conducting background checks. Mental Health keeps separate records from the rest of the Med Center, storing them in an alarmed room.

Mental health services employs twelve psychiatrists (three full time), three part-time psychologists, three full-time social workers, one psychiatric nurse, and six trainees. Reich said that MIT Mental Health has a large staff relative to the population is cares for.

Referrals and hospitalization

The Med Center serves a community of 30,000 staff, faculty, and students. Because of the great demand on mental health services at MIT, sometimes it is necessary to refer patients to outside providers. “We are unable to see all the people who want to see us,” Reich said.

The people referred to outside providers usually require weekly or twice-weekly therapy. But those who may feel uncomfortable going outside for help or have financial constraints may continue to receive long-term treatment at the Med Center.

“You get a feeling of unfairness sometimes” when some students are referred outside while others are allowed to remain at MIT, but “we rationalize on a clinical basis,” Reich said.

The Med Center lacks secure and safe facilities and trained nurses for psychiatric hospitalization. If a student requires hospitalization, the Med Center will refer that student to McLean or one of two other hospitals. Students may be sent involuntarily or voluntarily, but the hospital has the final say as to whether the student is admitted. Approximately fifteen to twenty students, about half of those undergraduates, are hospitalized each year.

“They (the hospitals) are not ideal, but they’re the best we have,” Reich said. Hospitals today face financial pressure to turn patients around as quickly as possible, he said. Their goal has largely shifted from treating patients to stabilizing them.

MedLinks offer student advice

MedLinks is a student-staffed medical resource run by the Health Education Office. The student MedLinks are trained in a variety of health topics, and educated about the medical resource available to MIT students.

According to MedLinks Coordinator Jennifer L. Warner ’00, the primary duty of a MedLink is to “listen and refer.” “We are not counselors,” Warner said.

MedLinks allow many students to get help who might not have otherwise, said Rosanne Guerriero, the Health Educator and coordinator of MedLinks. By providing students with peer resources, MedLinks “lowers the barriers” to getting assistance.

The Health Education Office offers a variety of additional services. Their office, located on the second floor of the MedCenter, has “tons of health info,” said Guerriero. In addition, the office runs MedStop, a 24-hour booth on the fifth floor of the student center that distributes informational pamphlets, condoms, and other health related items.

The Health Education Office also gets involved with living group activities, either running them directly, or by helping other groups to run a health-related presentation or activity.