In a letter sent to the MIT community Tuesday, Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88 and MIT Medical Director William Kettyle released a set of planned changes aimed at bolstering the Institute’s mental health resources. These changes come as a response to the results of the Healthy Minds Study, a mental health survey that was sent to all MIT undergraduate and graduate students last spring.
Foremost among these changes is the launch of the MindHandHeart Initiative. Barnhart called the initiative “MIT’s next step in our continuing process to address mental health issues” in an interview with The Tech.
According to the Chancellor, this initiative will fund innovative wellness ideas from the community and help coordinate current mental health services. Barnhart pointed to the Tell Me About Your Day bracelets handed out in the spring as an example of an idea or project that would have received funding. Students can apply online at http://mindhandheart.mit.edu/, the official website of the MindHandHeart Initiative. The next application cycle closes on Sept. 30.
Chancellor Barnhart said that a committee of students, faculty, and staff will be responsible for selecting which ideas proposed by students will be funded by the initiative. Resources from across campus will be pulled together to provide the funding for these projects.
“The idea here is that we really do need to leverage what is probably our most valuable asset here, and that is our people and their great ideas,” Barnhart said.
Other announced changes include an increase in staffing for the MIT Mental Health and Counseling Service (MH&C) and Student Support Services (S3), as well as an additional MH&C location in 8-316. At the new location, students will have the opportunity to participate in 20 minute “Let’s Chat” drop-in consultations. These informal conversations will be kept confidential. A clinician will be available starting Sept. 22, and students may drop by anytime from 1-3 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays.
MH&C plans to launch an online portal this year for students to chat with trained peers about any of their concerns. To make it easier for students to schedule an appointment, MH&C will add an online appointment request form to the MIT Medical website on Sept. 10. This summer, 32 students were also trained as “Peer Ears” to increase MIT’s peer-to-peer support within residence halls.
In the wake of four suicides within the MIT community in the last year, MIT signed on to become a member of the Jed-Clinton Health Matters Campus Program. According to its website, this program helps “colleges and universities promote emotional wellbeing and mental health programming, reduce substance abuse, and prevent suicide among their students.”
“This specific initiative was driven by a myriad of things,” Barnhart said. “It is a continuation of our efforts on campus. That’s not to say that last semester wasn’t a really difficult one. One of the things we learned last semester is how many members of our community really want to help. In that way, it shaped the design of the initiative.”
As part of MIT’s four-year commitment to the program, the Institute administered the Healthy Minds Study. The survey yielded a total response rate of 28 percent. While 17 other universities participated in the study this year, Barnhart said that their names are kept confidential. However, she stated that MIT’s peer schools were included.
The Healthy Minds Study reported that the majority of MIT respondents (77 percent undergraduate, 65 percent graduate) agreed with the statement: “At my school, I feel that the academic environment has a negative impact on students’ mental and emotional well-being.” In contrast, only 36 percent of undergraduate students and 38 percent of graduate students nationally agreed with the statement. An MIT undergraduate student was also considerably more likely to list “I question how serious my needs are” as a barrier to seeking help (49 percent MIT, 34 percent national).
Among other findings, the survey reported that over half of MIT students (54 percent) regularly sleep for eight or more hours each night, while another 27 percent sleep for at least seven. It also found that only 38 percent of MIT students (graduate and undergraduate) exercise for three or more hours each week, whereas more than half of national respondents receive the same amount of exercise.
“What we’re trying to do with the MindHandHeart Initiative is to help students manage stress, manage time, manage MIT,” said Barnhart. “We are working to ensure that our support system is as strong as possible and that students have as positive of an experience at MIT as possible. I think our commitment to this and the general interest of faculty, students, staff — the full community — in working on this problem speaks to the nature of who we are.”