In the wake of recent campus deaths, students have been seeking mental health services in greater numbers, part of a general increase in mental health-related visits over the last five years, according to Alan E. Siegel, Chief of MIT’s Mental Health Service.
According to Siegel, one major change that he has witnessed recently has been the increase in the number of calls to MIT Mental Health & Counseling (MH&C). This past September, MH&C received 27 calls, compared to 12 in September 2013 and 5 in September 2012. Siegel attributed this increase in calls to the aftermath of the September deaths of Phoebe Wang ’17 and graduate student Austin Travis.
Siegel said that over the last five years, more students have taken advantage of the MIT MH&C services. From 2008 through 2013, the total number of undergraduates seen increased by 50 percent to 959 students, and the average length of treatment increased by 12 percent.
A smaller proportion of these students have needed to take medical leave from MIT, typically for psychiatric conditions. 72 undergraduate students took medical leave during the 2012-2013 year.
Siegel said that the suicide rate at MIT is around the nationwide average of 7.5 to 7.8 per 100,000 people.
Siegel was optimistic about the fact that he perceived communication between students improving over time. “We’ve seen that students are more open to talking with peers about difficulties, and willing to follow peer recommendations,” said Siegel. He said about 80-85 percent of students who came to MIT Medical for mental health reasons were self-referred.
In addition, a large number of students participated in the annual Depression Screening event held by the Active Minds at MIT initiative on October 9. Siegel noted that “within the first two hours, the event filled intake consultations for two weeks.”
However, he expressed concerns about the well-being of the student community in the context of the recent deaths. Siegel said that the deaths “contributed to a sense of unease in the minds of the community,” and that they have made coping with stress and anxiety more difficult.
Siegel said he hopes that members of the campus community will be able to form a supportive network in times of need with the help of MIT MH&C. “We want to help people help each other.”