Penn’s mental health task force offered preliminary recommendations to student groups at an Undergraduate Assembly steering committee, which included establishing a helpline staffed by professionals trained by Counseling and Psychological Services as well as standardizing academic leave policies across Penn’s schools.
Members of the task force also told students at the meeting last week that mandatory online modules for Penn students about mental health and managing stress will begin next summer, according to students who attended.
The task force will present its finalized recommendations to Penn President Amy Gutmann and Provost Vincent Price by the end of the year, and a final public report of the results is expected in early 2015. Members met throughout the spring and summer to gather relevant research and student feedback on the best and most feasible recommendations to improve the mental well-being of Penn students.
Those who attended the meeting said some of the recommendations focused on centralizing information about mental health resources, like the Chaplain’s Office and Student Intervention Services, which currently are not advertised all in one place. Members of the task force suggested creating a single helpline staffed by professionals trained by CAPS to help students dealing with varying levels of stress and a corresponding online portal with information on available resources for students.
Gutmann formally announced the helpline in an email sent to all undergraduates on Tuesday.
Bushnell, her co-chair of the task force and Director of Education for the Department of Psychiatry Anthony Rostain and vice-chair of the task force and Vice President for Institutional Affairs Joann Mitchell could not be reached for comment.
“It’s been really interesting to see all the great things that are going on already,” former School of Arts and Sciences Dean Rebecca Bushnell told the Daily Pennsylvanian in August. “At a place [like] Penn, which is so decentralized, we need to find a way to bring all these things together.”
Another focus of the recommendations surrounded leave of absence policies, which are currently described differently on each school’s website. The task force is looking to destigmatize leaves and make the process of how to take a leave more transparent, as well as clarify that leave of absence policies are standard across schools on the school websites.
Students at last week’s meeting responded with an array of questions and comments, which ranged from the effect of Student Financial Services on stress to how to reduce academic stress for incoming freshman.
Ultimately, one of the underlying questions the task force will have to face is how to measure the mental well-being of Penn students in order to gauge whether or not their implemented recommendations — complied after months of research and planning — make an impact.
“My sense of things is the University is thinking carefully about it,” said Victor Schwartz, the medical director of the Jed Foundation — an organization that works to promote mental health and prevent suicide among college students — who met with the task force over the summer. “They’re looking at various levels of how counseling centers provide services and looking at communicating and educating students. Hopefully some observations and enhancements come out of that.”
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