A Focus on Student Mental Health

New funding from the JED Foundation will help the university in its efforts to enhance well-being on campus
the Academic Quad at Tufts in winter
“We have to engage the community on mental health issues and stress reduction overall. We are trying to foster a community of care,” said Michelle Bowdler, executive director of Health and Wellness at Tufts. Photo: Alonso Nichols
January 18, 2019

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Tufts is getting a boost in its efforts to advance the well-being of students thanks to its selection as the first recipient of a new scholarship established by the HBC Foundation to join JED Campus, a program by the JED Foundation.

JED Campus is a nationwide initiative to help colleges and universities assess and improve existing mental health, substance abuse, and suicide prevention efforts. The JED Foundation works with schools over four years to help strengthen policies, programs, and systems that address mental health issues among young adults on campus, including stress, anxiety and depression.

Currently, more than 214 schools across the country are part of the JED Campus community; Tufts will be one of another twenty-five to join in the spring.

Tufts’ new partnership with JED was made public at a New York Times-sponsored event featuring NBA-star Kevin Love, an advocate for expanding the conversation around mental health. The HBC Foundation, the charitable arm of Hudson’s Bay Company, announced at the event that it had established a $300,000 scholarship fund to support JED’s work with colleges and universities.

“This is a real moment for Tufts,” said Michelle Bowdler, executive director of Health and Wellness at Tufts. “The JED Foundation brings to the table different models on how to set up mental-health education on campus, and protocols and policies related to suicide prevention. They are well-respected, and I know we will accomplish much by working together.”

The JED Campus initiative will find fertile ground at Tufts, where a coordinated, community approach to mental health and well-being encompasses “all the variables of living independently,” said Bowdler.

In line with national trends, Tufts has seen a steady increase in the demand for mental-health resources and services in recent years. A 2017 report by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health found that depression and anxiety are the top reasons college students seek counseling. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, college years are critical for support around mental health; 75 percent of all mental health conditions begin by age twenty-four.

Jet, a dog from the Tufts Paws for People therapy dogs program, makes a visit with students during finals. Photo: Kelvin MaAbout 25 percent of Tufts students find support at the university’s Counseling and Mental Health Services (CMHS). Tufts has also strengthened its focus on proactively alleviating the stress of college—particularly before and during finals—with various programs such as Koru mindfulness training and animal assisted therapy with Pause for Paws. In addition, CMHS has recently partnered with two outside telehealth resources, BetterHelp and iHope, which provide students with access to licensed therapists via phone, chat, and videoconference.

CMHS services and resources are part of broader efforts at Tufts to foster individual health and a sense of community. Offices like Residential Life, Campus Life, and the Group of Six have organized activities such as “BOlympics,” a field day for first-year students; “Escape Tisch,” a fun problem-solving event; and #MyTufts, an orientation program that highlights the diversity of perspectives and experiences students will encounter at Tufts.

Together these activities “have fostered mutual understanding, well-being, and joy,” said Mary Pat McMahon, dean of student affairs. “Tufts is considered unique in deliberately weaving together mental health resources with engagement opportunities that support the entire community.” 

Student groups concerned with mental health are active on campus, too. The Tufts chapter of Active Minds brings together students who have organized programming for the National Day Without Stigma and Eating Disorder Awareness Week; the chapter recently sponsored its third annual Mental Health Monologues this past spring.  Students are also involved in Tufts Ears for Peers, an anonymous, confidential helpline for all Tufts students that has been maintained for many years and which is available each day from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Bowdler also credited Tufts with having the foresight to understand the gravity of mental health issues; the university has been involved with the nationwide Healthy Minds Study since its start in 2007. The web-based survey study annually examines mental health, service utilization, and related issues. 

Bowdler said support is more than just about adding more staff. “We have to engage the community on mental health issues and stress reduction overall. We are trying to foster a community of care. That is how JED looks at mental health, and how we are looking at it as well.”

Tufts President Anthony P. Monaco said the University is honored to be the inaugural recipient of the JED Foundation’s new scholarship.

“We have made mental health a priority at Tufts in recognition of the importance of meeting our students’ needs, fostering resilience, and creating a healthy and supportive community,” he said. “The JED Foundation is the leading organization in college mental health and suicide prevention in the country, and their frameworks and recommendations have been key resources for us over many years. We thank HBC Foundation for their longstanding commitment to mental health, and for the funding to make this initiative possible, bringing additional campuses into the JED Foundation network.”

Lee Swain, director of the JED Campus, said the first year of the partnership will focus on assessment and strategic planning, followed by implementation and, lastly, assessment.

“We see our work as a culture change initiative,” he said. “Mental health is part of overall health and wellness. Everybody can have a role to play in making sure students have what they need to thrive and flourish, and in encouraging students to ask for help when they need it.”

The announcement comes as Tufts’ Mental Health Task Force, commissioned by Monaco, is completing a study “to ensure that Tufts University is meeting the needs of our student populations, fostering resilience, and providing a healthy and supportive community in which all students can reach their potential.” Its report, with recommendations, is expected to be delivered in February.

Laura Ferguson can be reached at laura.ferguson@tufts.edu.