Letter to the Editor

Anna Hager ’12, Alexa Hetwer ’13, Gavin Front ’12, Kaytee Turetsky ’12, Jacon Powers ’13, Jillian Stockmo ’13 write in as part of the Amherst College Mental Health Task Force to inform the students about mental health on campus.

We write as the student representatives to the Mental Health Task Force to inform you about the goals of the task force and our progress toward those goals. The MHTF, formed in the fall of 2010, currently has 20 members, including representatives from the Dean of Students’ Office, Health Services, the faculty, the Counseling Center, the Center for Community Engagement, the Career Center, athletics and the student body. We approach mental health on campus through a public health model, attempting to consider the diverse factors that affect the mental health of individuals and communities, rather than focusing solely on mental illness. Our long-term goal is to make recommendations to the College regarding resources and programming that would better serve the mental health needs of our community. These recommendations will be the end result of our strategic planning process.

As part of the strategic planning process, we have conducted 12 student focus groups, 11 staff focus groups and one faculty focus group in order to gather input about student mental health from a wide range of perspectives within the community. We asked participants in each focus group a set of questions to assess their opinions and attitudes about resiliency, stress factors, experiences with distressed students and campus mental health resources. These questions frequently opened into wider discussions of mental health on campus among focus group participants. We spent last semester analyzing the results of these focus groups in an effort to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of current resources on our campus and to identify areas where student needs are still unmet.

Over the course of this semester, we hope to conduct a second faculty focus group, present our findings to the faculty, the administration and President Martin. We aim to solicit further input from students, investigate innovative resources and successful programs at our peer institutions and make concrete recommendations to the administration, so as to improve student mental health on campus.
We feel very strongly that establishing a culture of resiliency and balance on campus should be a top concern of the college community in the coming months. If you have opinions about mental health on campus, ideas about resources we should include in our recommendations to the College or questions about the MHTF, please contact us! We value your input greatly.