Two months after the University administration convened a mental health task force in response to a string of student suicides, the task force is still in its organizational phase.
The task force, which is co-chaired by Director of Education for the Department of Psychiatry Anthony Rostain and former School of Arts and Sciences Dean Rebecca Bushnell , plans to announce two working groups within a week. One working group will focus on intervention and treatment — looking at potential problems with Counseling and Psychological Services, among other concerns — and the other working group will be oriented toward education and outreach. The working groups, unlike the core task force itself, will include students along with faculty and staff. Rostain declined to name the members until the official announcement.
After two initial meetings, the task group has met every week since the end of March and has been working to understand the state of mental health on campus, Rostain said. The task force has met with staff and administrators from CAPS, Student Intervention Services and Student Health Service, as well as with student groups, and has more meetings lined up. The task force and working groups intend to meet throughout the summer.
The task group is an internal review board without the direct ability to make policy — a shortcoming made clear when looking back at the 2002 Mental Health and Outreach Task Force, which Rostain also chaired. The administration successfully implemented four of the 2002 task force’s six main recommendations. A secondary suggestion for health graduate assistants in each of the college houses also fell through.
“Any student groups with issues should be directing questions and concerns to operations people,” Rostain said. “Our group isn’t really functioning as an operations group. We’re staying on the level of internally looking at things — gathering data, making guidelines and suggestions.”
That distinction caused some friction at a meeting about two weeks ago between the task force and the Green Ribbon Movement, a student-led mental health advocacy group. The task force invited the Green Ribbon Movement to meet after receiving a copy of the group’s platform, College sophomore and Green Ribbon Movement member Derek Sexton said. While Bushnell, Rostain and Vice President for Institutional Affairs Joann Mitchell , the task force vice chair, seemed interested in what the Green Ribbon Movement had to say, Sexton said, he was frustrated by the lack of concrete answers they gave.
“They couldn’t really give us an answer about certain funding issues because — in their own words — they’re only an advisory board to the provost and the president,” Sexton said. “We didn’t get any concrete proposals or any dates about when certain things can be implemented.”
“It was heated at times,” Rostain said. “But students should be active.”
The task group is expected to release its recommendations in early 2015.
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.