Following the suicide of Wharton junior Olivia Kong on Monday, Penn President Amy Gutmann and Provost Vincent Price announced Wednesday that the Task Force on Student Psychological Health and Welfare will reconvene immediately.
The president and provost said in a statement emailed to The Daily Pennsylvanian and other media that they have asked the chairs of the mental health task force that was implemented in 2014 — Director of Education for the Department of Psychiatry Anthony Rostain and former School of Arts and Sciences Dean Rebecca Bushnell — to reconvene the group instantly to “determine as expeditiously as possible what additional steps can be taken to help ensure the health and well-being of our students.”
The task force will evaluate the impact of its previously implemented recommendations and seek changes to further improve the recommendations’ effectiveness.
In the interim, CAPS is extending its hours in the evenings and on weekends and is instructed to inform the University if it requires additional resources to meet all student needs, according to Gutmann and Price’s statement.
The mental health task force was originally formed in 2014 in response to a string of student suicides and, after a year of conducting research and interviews, the task force concluded its study with an eight-page report outlining recommendations to improve the psychological well-being of students.
The report published in February 2015 gave four main recommendations: increasing communication to students about the importance of mental health and well-being, making information about resources more accessible, educating and training the community about mental health and optimizing resources devoted to Counseling and Psychological Services.
Specific recommendations included creating a website centralizing the University’s health resources by the fall of 2015 and clarifying leave of absence policies, which tended to be worded differently across Penn’s schools, as well as involving faculty and instituting an emergency phone line.
After the report was released, a cross-campus oversight team was formed to ensure that Penn would implement the recommendations and that the University would align its efforts with standards set by the Jed and Clinton Health Matters Campus Program, a program helping universities enhance mental health and substance abuse programming over the course of four years.
The oversight team was created after Penn failed to implement all of the recommendations of the last mental health task force, which was formed in 2002 in response to the Sept. 11 attacks.
This time, the task force will need to evaluate the effects of its 2015 recommendations, which did not set firm deadlines nor include ways to measure the impact of its proposed changes.
“We welcome and appreciate the suggestions offered by our students and other members of the Penn community,” the statement said.
The president and provost said in their message that “we have not and will not let resources stand in the way of protecting the mental health needs of our community ... please be assured that the University will explore every possible avenue in our effort to make Penn a model for addressing mental wellness.”
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