RE: Study calls for MIT to improve mental care

From: Vincent Campbell (
Date: Thu Jul 05 2001 - 12:14:08 BST

  • Next message: Wade T.Smith: "RE: Study calls for MIT to improve mental care"

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    From: Vincent Campbell <>
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    Subject: RE: Study calls for MIT to improve mental care
    Date: Thu, 5 Jul 2001 12:14:08 +0100 
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    Without wanting to sound flippant, isn't there a basic problem in confirming
    that apparent suicides are actually suicides, and not accidental deaths?

    The throwaway description of the poor woman who set herself on fire made me
    think this. It's a rather unusual way to kill yourself isn't it? Are they
    sure it was deliberate? I suppose they must be...

    Sobering reports like these do put paid, a little at least, to the
    perception of America as a therapy-dependant society. It seems that there
    are plenty of people who need it but don't get it.


    > ----------
    > From: Wade T.Smith
    > Reply To:
    > Sent: Wednesday, July 4, 2001 6:21 pm
    > To: Memetics Discussion List
    > Subject: Fwd: Study calls for MIT to improve mental care
    > Study calls for MIT to improve mental care
    > By Patrick Healy, Globe Staff, 7/4/2001
    > The Massachusetts Institute of Technology should make ''significant
    > changes'' to its mental-health services and begin screening students for
    > depression and suicidal tendencies, according to a high-level draft
    > report.
    > Since early 1998, six MIT students have killed themselves, and over the
    > past decade the university had a suicide rate that a Globe study found to
    > be higher than at many other elite campuses. MIT has come under intense
    > pressure from families and classmates to evaluate how it treats students'
    > mental health.
    > The new report, commissioned last year after MIT sophomore Elizabeth Shin
    > died by setting herself on fire, was written by a 20-member task force of
    > MIT psychiatrists, staff members, and students, and was provided to the
    > Globe in its final stages.
    > The draft includes damning evidence of holes in MIT's mental-health
    > safety net, which some parents and students say is not nearly strong
    > enough to help deal with the academic and personal pressures that many
    > students feel at the elite, 10,000-student school.
    > Among the task force's findings:
    > Three-quarters of MIT students surveyed reported having an emotional
    > problem that interfered with their daily functioning, but only 28 percent
    > turned to the MIT Mental Health Service.
    > Of students who did seek help, one-third had to wait 10 days or more to
    > see an MIT counselor.
    > MIT ranked 7th of nine top universities it surveyed in the number of
    > full-time mental health clinicians per student. MIT was also the only one
    > that did not offer regular evening office hours. MIT has not expanded its
    > counseling staff since 1995, even though its student caseload increased
    > by 61 percent.
    > The report makes a number of concrete recommendations to ensure that
    > students in crisis are noticed sooner - and receive timely care.
    > To keep students from having to wait more than a week for an appointment,
    > it suggests, MIT should add between six and 10 full-time clinicians to
    > its Mental Health Service, which now has a staff of 18 psychiatrists,
    > psychologists, and psychiatric social workers, and should significantly
    > expand evening hours.
    > The draft also urges MIT to train professors, dormitory staff, and tutors
    > to watch for warning signs and recognize students who might have
    > emotional problems.
    > It suggests the university hire a dean to oversee ''a large-scale mental
    > health campaign on campus,'' as well as an orientation session for
    > freshmen on mental health and a new program to detect depression in
    > students and prevent suicide.
    > Counseling centers at MIT and universities nationwide are seeing far more
    > students today, specialists say. Many of them are depressed, bipolar, or
    > have eating disorders, yet are academically successful because they are
    > medicated or have received therapy from an early age.
    > ''At universities like MIT, you have high-performing students who for
    > years have done well, but when they get to MIT, they face the added
    > responsibilites of a tough academic environment and a personal
    > adjustment,'' said Perry C. Francis, the outgoing president of the
    > American College Counseling Association.
    > At the same time, Francis said, schools are cutting or privatizing mental
    > health services - viewing severe emotional problems as too complex for
    > them to solve through in-house therapy, and worried about legal liability
    > for suicide.
    > ''Universities see these types of services as a money drain - the cash is
    > going out, not coming in,'' he said. ''What many administrators don't see
    > is that the more services you provide, the greater the chance students
    > will stay in the university.''
    > At MIT, the administration has been prodded by students to help them cope
    > with academic demands and personal frustrations. Undergraduates,
    > especially, say their classmates are increasingly struggling with
    > depression and contemplating suicide.
    > ''Our recommendations are addressing a lot of the student concerns about
    > what needs to change on campus,'' said Rupa Hattangadi, a student on the
    > task force.
    > Leaders of the Mental Health Task Force could not be reached for comment
    > yesterday, but other members said the draft recommendations would remain
    > intact in the final version. MIT Chancellor Phillip L. Clay, who will
    > decide whether to carry out the proposals, did not return phone messages
    > seeking comment.
    > Despite requests from some MIT students, the task force did not
    > investigate whether bedrocks of MIT's culture - high expectations of
    > professors, a competitive academic environment, a spirit of independence
    > in lab work, and a relatively uncohesive dormitory system - had a
    > particularly distressing effect on students.
    > One recommendation does urge customizing a depression screening and
    > suicide prevention program for MIT students, in part by making it
    > available online. The proposed mental health awareness campaign would
    > also seek to ''change the campus culture so that students feel
    > comfortable seeking help.''
    > Eric Plosky, an MIT graduate who witnessed a suicide on campus in 1998
    > and first proposed creating the task force, said yesterday he was
    > disappointed the panel did not look into factors on campus that might
    > lead to suicide.
    > He also expressed concern about the fate of the report, since it was
    > commissioned not by Chancellor Clay but by his predecessor.
    > ''MIT needs to actually talk about what they can do with these ideas, and
    > do it,'' said Plosky, who declined to comment on the recommendations
    > until they were finalized.
    > An MIT spokesman said officials would not comment until the task force
    > delivers the finished report, which is expected this summer.
    > Patrick Healy can be reached by e-mail at
    > This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 7/4/2001. Copyright
    > 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.
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