All students are asked to pay special attention to an email they will find in their inboxes on Wednesday. The message, from HealthyMinds-Dartmouth@umich.edu, will contain a link to an online survey that will guide Dartmouth’s efforts to improve campus mental health and well-being over the next four years.
“We know students are over-surveyed, and we know they’re busy, but this is really important,” says Mark Reed, director of the Dartmouth College Health Service.
Graduate, professional, and undergraduate students will have 30 days to complete and submit the Healthy Minds Study Survey, which should take less than half an hour to fill out. The questionnaire about the mental health climate and resources on campus is part of Dartmouth’s work with the Jed Foundation’s signature JED Campus Program. The nonprofit works to promote well-being, protect emotional health, and prevent suicide for teens and young adults.
The higher the participation rate, the more meaningful the results will be, says Reed, who co-leads the undergraduate Jed Working group with Rebecca Biron, director of the Leslie Center for the Humanities and a professor of Spanish and comparative literature. “It means a lot to the entire campus for students to spend those 25 minutes on the survey.”
All Stakeholders at the Table
Over the next four years, working groups from the undergraduate program, Geisel School of Medicine, Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies, Thayer School of Engineering, and Tuck School of Business will develop and implement a plan to support students’ mental health needs. The groups—each of which includes students, faculty, staff, and senior leaders—will work closely with Jed advisers.
Jessica Chiriboga ’24, a member of the undergraduate working group, says that the broad-based approach was what drew her to the partnership.
No single group or committee will do all the work. Instead, the experts at the foundation will work with all stakeholders to “walk us through the process,” says Chiriboga, a Student Assembly senator and chair of that organization’s mental health committee.
Reed says Jed’s inclusivity reflects the foundation’s central tenet that mental health and wellness are responsibilities everyone shares. To succeed, the Jed program will require the engagement and support of senior leadership, he says.
“We’re very fortunate to have that support,” Reed says.
“We had a difficult year last year,” Reed says. “We want to do everything we can to create the healthiest, most supportive environment we can.”
Reflecting Diverse Identities and Interests
Reed says that, as with other colleges and universities, mental health issues are present across the campus population. About 28% of undergraduate, graduate, and professional students use Dartmouth’s counseling services each year, a percentage that’s in line with peer institutions.
The survey students are receiving this week, created by the University of Michigan and Boston University-based Healthy Minds Network, includes questions about students’ personal experiences with mental health issues and resources.
It also asks about overall campus climate related to inclusivity and diversity, exploring factors such as how comfortable and supported students feel on campus, and to what degree they feel engaged and part of the community, Reed says. “If I’m a person who is struggling with some mental health issues, is that OK to talk about?”
Several incentives are in place to encourage widespread participation, including free coffee for students who bring a printout of Wednesday’s email to one of four sites on campus and a link to a wellness site featuring recorded meditations. In addition, 100 students who complete the survey will be chosen at random to receive a $20 Amazon gift card.
Targeting as many groups as possible “is going to help us reflect the diversity—and the diversity of interests—on this campus,” says Chiriboga.
The Next Steps
This fall, the working groups will complete a 50-page self-study of policies and procedures related to mental health and suicide prevention on campus. That information, along with the survey results, meetings with student focus groups, and a site visit by Jed representatives in spring 2022, will guide the groups and Jed partners as they create strategic plans for the graduate and professional schools and the undergraduate program.
The recommendations will be implemented during the second and third years of the partnership. In the fourth year, the Healthy Minds Survey and self-study will be readministered to assess the program’s effects.
While mental health awareness is not something that can be improved overnight, Chiriboga is hopeful about the process, she says. “This is a long-term investment.”