MIT Mental Health Examined

An interim report from the MIT Mental Health Task Force—created in the wake of six suicides at the university since 1996—found fault with a number of the practices of the MIT mental health clinic. The task force recommended broad changes in its Aug. 28 report, many of which will be instituted this fall, including large increases in staff size and longer hours for the clinic.

According to the report, visits to the MIT clinic increased by 60 percent between 1995 and 2000, although staff size at the clinic remained constant. The report notes that MIT is also the only college studied that does not offer evening appointments at the clinic.

MIT chancellor Phillip L. Clay says the work of the task force will create “a broad and intense dialogue within MIT on ways to better support the individual growth and well-being of our students.”

“The draft includes a number of thoughtful recommendations. They are sensible, and we are implementing some of them without delay,” Clay said in a press release.

Beginning on Sept. 17, mental health staffing will be expanded to include the hours between 5 and 7 p.m., with additional on-call support between 7 p.m. and midnight and a phone hotline between midnight and 8 a.m.

“We’re adding these evening appointments in response to requests from students, staff and the Mental Health Task Force for evening services that don’t conflict with class, lab or work schedules. We know that most people in the MIT community have extraordinarily busy schedules, and we are going to make it easier for students and staff to get the care they need, when they need it,” Medical Director Dr. William Kettyle said in a press release.

Besides the expanded evening clinic hours, the institute is also expanding the psychotherapy coverage offered in their health plan.

The new coverage offers unlimited visits with no co-payment, one of the most comprehensive plans in the country.

Arnold R. Henderson Jr., associate dean and section head of counseling and support services at MIT and a task force member, is supportive of the new programs.

“I’m really enthusiastic about the fact that a number of people from within the institution are working on it,” he said.

A final report is expected in October, and the interim report is not to be considered the final say on the subject.

Indeed, MIT has not accepted all the report’s recommendations. The task force suggested adding between six and 10 more full-time mental health staffers. MIT has hired four additional resident life staffers, who will visit dorms and other living areas to supplement the work of graduate tutors and masters.

The report also emphasized outreach. Each living group and academic department are to have mental health contact persons.

The report also includes plans for large outreach events, such as educational forums, awareness events and increased web and print forums.

It also calls for a coordinator of mental health support services to oversee the mental health services.

In a student survey at MIT last spring, 74 percent of respondents reported having had a mental problem that interfered with their daily lives, though only 28 percent reported having used the mental health resources the institute provided. Overall, 11 percent of students use the mental health resources at MIT, an increase from 7 percent a few years ago.

The report quoted one student who wrote that “asking for help is not easy for the typical MIT student.”

—Staff writer Andrew J. Miller can be reached at amiller@fas.harvard.edu.