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Mental Health Task Force to survey students via web

A student-staff Task Force on Mental Health will survey students this month, seeking ideas on how to provide them the best mental health services possible.

Dr. Kristine Girard, a staff psychiatrist and MIT graduate, co-chairs the task force with David Mellis, a junior in mathematics and the chair of the Undergraduate Association's Committee on Student Life.

The task force, sponsored by Chancellor Lawrence Bacow, was started in October by student initiative. It includes three graduate students and four undergraduates, including representatives from the Nightline service, as well as the graduate resident tutors and others who are called upon to provide formal and informal counseling to students.

"We're making progress, sometimes more so than others," said Mr. Mellis. "I think we have a definite sense of the improvements we want to see. First is the overall availability: the number of hours, and shifting more hours to the afternoon to make it easier for people. Also, service at night; a psychiatrist is on call, but it would be nice to have one at MIT in the evenings.

"Second is the communications between all the people who care about students -- the deans, the faculty, the housemasters and so on. Third is outreach -- getting staff into the living groups so that people know them, and [fourth], increasing information about the services."

The task force welcomes ideas and feedback, which can be sent to

Dr. Girard said the goal of the group is to "maximize our care for the students."


The task force has four working groups discussing expansion of services, a public information campaign to encourage students to use the services more, the need for outreach to students outside of the Mental Health service, and a review of how the service works with colleagues such as the counseling deans, the chaplains, housemasters, graduate resident tutors and others.

Most universities limit outside psychotherapy visits to 20 to 25 visits per year. MIT is believed to be the only university to subsidize up to 50 private therapy visits per calendar year -- no matter what time of year the patient begins those visits.

The subsidy of therapy by private psychiatrists, psychologists and nurse clinicians is going to be increased in April from its current rate of $35 a visit to $50 a visit.

The private therapy option is in addition to MIT's own therapists, whom students may see free of charge. MIT has 11 staff psychiatristsand two MDs who are residents in psychiatry, as well as three psychologists, one psychiatric nurse, four social workers and four other graduate interns.

Students may see a staff psychiatrist without an appointment from 2-4pm Monday through Friday. Appointments to see a particular staff psychiatrist may require a wait of a week or more, due to increased demand.

The task force is reviewing the staffing needs to answer student requests for more psychiatrists and expanded hours of service. In the past five years, students have been more willing to talk to psychiatrists about their relationships and ordinary problems.

Student use of Mental Health has gone from 7 percent to 11 percent of the student population, said Dr. Peter Reich, head of the MentalHealth service. He noted that other colleges reported similar increases in the past five years.

Mental Health is open to the entire MIT community, with office hours from 8:30am-5pm and emergency service available around the clock. It has no built-in HMO-style limits on student visits; a psychiatrist on call will come in to see patients at any time in an emergency. The doctors are available via emergency beepers during off hours.

The Task Force members include the co-chairs and students Amanda Griffiths and Bradley Ito (both freshmen); senior Efrat Shavit; and graduate students Salil Soman and Aurelie Thiele. Staff and faculty members include Jinana Aboundi, housemaster at MacGregor House; Gina Baral, health educator for students; Larry Benedict, dean for student life; John Edmond, professor of Earth Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences; Michael Glover, communications manager for MIT Medical; Arnold Henderson, associate dean and section head of Counseling and Support Services; and Susan Kelly, medical supervisor for Mental Health.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 7, 2001.

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