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MIT's mental health services featured on NBC's 'Today'

Alan Siegel
Alan Siegel

MIT's Mental Health Service, particularly its nationally recognized suicide prevention program, was featured on a recent segment of NBC-TV's "Today" show.

The episode came at a time when MIT's Mental Health Service is planning to add two new components to its program that are designed to reach and serve more at-risk clients.

The seven-minute segment featured mental health care providers, a United States senator, educators, parents and the heads of a national suicide prevention program--all of whom note that suicide prevention is an ongoing challenge requiring specialized attention, sensitivity and commitment.

They pointed out that suicide is the third leading cause of death in the United States.

Dr. Alan Siegel, chief of Mental Health Service at MIT Medical, appeared in the Oct. 19 segment anchored by "Today" co-host Matt Lauer.

After Lauer noted that in recent years, "MIT has made changes in the ways they try to reach at-risk students," Dr. Siegel said, "We're involved in training everybody that we can think of--faculty, administrative staff, dormitory personnel and students themselves--in recognizing when a student has some difficulties."

Siegel also said, "There has been an increase in the use of mental health services [at MIT]. Part of it, I think, is because students are made more aware of what services are available."

The segment also featured comments from representatives of the University of Illinois and Emory University, both of which have unique approaches to suicide prevention programs. Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), sponsor of a Senate bill to provide mental health funding for universities and named after his late son Garrett Smith, was also interviewed.

One of the programs soon to be added to the MIT Mental Health Service practices is identical to the pilot program underway at Emory that was discussed on the "Today" show. It involves an online depression screening outreach program and allows for anonymous online dialogue with a clinician. This online exchange allows students to make a clinical connection in a more private way as a first step towards meetings with a counselor, the Emory staff determined.

MIT's Mental Health Service will add this anonymous online approach to its program in early 2005.

The second new element is adopted from protocol used by the United States Air Force and recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. It targets at-risk individuals with dual components--prevention measures and interventions.

The U.S.A.F. program stresses broad education, training in mental illness prevention, community programs to enhance protective factors, and identification and early referral of at-risk individuals.

In addition to identifying contributing causes of suicide, it found that protective factors fell into three categories--social support and interconnectedness, individual coping skills, and cultural norms that promote and protect responsible help-seeking behavior.

The Mental Health Service provides consultation, counseling and crisis intervention to all students for many different problems at no cost. It also offers consultation to all faculty and administrators who are concerned about any student.

To reach the MIT Mental Health Service, call (617) 253-2916. Appointments are available within a few days of calling. Walk-in meetings with a staff clinician are available for urgent matters without an appointment, Monday through Friday from 2 to 4 p.m. Staff are available for emergency consultation 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 27, 2004 (download PDF).

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