Keeping in line with task force recommendations, Penn is turning to outside help to improve mental health on campus.
Penn is participating in the Campus Program, a collaboration between the Jed and Clinton foundations with a four-year commitment that requires universities to complete self-assessments and establish an oversight committee to monitor progress on mental health efforts. According to the report released by the mental health task force last week, the program will “help Penn better align its efforts to support students’ emotional well-being with national standards.”
Penn’s 2002 mental health task force also recommended a campus committee to oversee the implementation of its recommendations, but that committee was never formed. The Campus Program will help hold Penn accountable for monitoring changes, according to 2015 task force co-chairs Rebecca Bushnell and Tony Rostain.
Penn is still in the preliminary stages of the program, according to Medical Director of the Jed Foundation Victor Schwartz, who acted as a consultant to the Task Force on Student Psychological Health and Welfare last year. The first steps will be to finalize the University’s campus-wide committee, and then to administer the first self-assessment. After those steps have been taken, representatives from the Campus Program will begin making visits to Penn.
Additional surveys will be completed over the course of the next four years to help the school continue to identify areas for improvement and track progress. Marketing and communication about mental health resources, Schwartz said, is an example of something the program might focus on.
The Campus Program, launched in June 2014, focuses on specific factors that were first identified by the United States Air Force Suicide Prevention Program, including promoting “social connectedness” and the development of “life skills,” according to its website. It also tracks metrics like overall student retention, hospitalizations and other indicators of student safety, Schwartz said.
In addition to mental health, the program aims to help its partner institutions reduce substance abuse.
Counseling and Psychological Services leadership led the effort for Penn to affiliate with the Campus Program. It was one of the proposals that Rostain and Bushnell brought to President Amy Gutmann and Provost Vincent Price before presenting the mental health task force’s final recommendations. The University’s HELP line was also established in advance of the final report.
Cornell, Columbia and Princeton universities are also part of the inaugural class of participants in the program. Its goal is to have 150 campuses signed on by the end of 2015, and it is already more than halfway to reaching that goal, Schwartz said.
The Jed Foundation, founded in 2000 by two parents whose son committed suicide, works toward improving emotional health for teenagers and young adults. The Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation has a global health focus and partners with different businesses and governments.
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