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Healthy Minds Study is first step in boosting campus mental health services

Stanford launches a comprehensive student survey around mental health and well-being to help set the direction for the university’s mental health services.

This spring, Stanford will launch its most comprehensive student survey around mental health and well-being to date. Input from every student on campus is needed to help set the direction for the university’s mental health services.

The Healthy Minds Study, a baseline assessment that measures students’ attitudes, behaviors and awareness of emotional well-being, is being conducted through Sunday, April 24. All students will receive an email April 11 with a direct link to the survey. It does not have to be completed in one sitting, and results will be reported only in aggregate, with no way to trace them to individuals.

“This will be the most comprehensive survey we have done for all students on their mental health needs and well-being,” said Bina Patel, director of Counseling and Psychological Services. “It will be really critical to shaping our understanding of student needs.”

Survey questions will ask about students’ current mental health status and about what they know and think about the mental health services available on campus, as well as their resilience and coping skills. The graduate student version of the survey will also include questions about alcohol and substance use; undergraduates are surveyed regularly on these topics, so the university has current data about their views.

“Many students are really struggling. People talk about the ‘mental health crisis’ in higher education, and that started before the pandemic,” said Ruben Land, a PhD candidate in neurosciences from Rochester, New York. “If we want to make any headway on these issues, it’s important that we learn more about what’s going on for students from every part of the Stanford community. This survey is one of the best ways that we as students can contribute to efforts for improving the state of mental health and well-being on campus.”

Because the survey results will be used to allocate campus mental health resources, it is vital to have all students’ voices represented.

“If students belong to an underresourced or historically marginalized community, their voices are especially important to us,” said John Austin, senior advisor for mental health and well-being innovation at Vaden Health Services.

Charting a new path

The results of the survey will be made available to the campus community via a public dashboard.

The survey is also one of the first steps in a four-year process to become a JED Campus. Thanks to funding from an anonymous donor, the university will work for four years with the JED Foundation, a nonprofit organization that focuses on mental health and the prevention of youth suicide and substance misuse, to evaluate and improve campus mental health resources.

The process will help the university “provide the best services possible, so students can thrive and succeed academically and personally,” Austin said.

Representatives from the JED Foundation will visit campus in the spring and will use findings from their visit, along with the survey results, to make recommendations to the university.

“The JED Campus model is based on a public mental health model for student well-being,” Patel said. It looks at students’ sense of belonging, mental health resources on campus and how the physical space of campus supports student health. The goal is to engage entities across campus – from faculty members to facilities – in the mission to improve mental health.

Increasing demand

Even before the pandemic, Stanford – along with colleges and universities across the country – was seeing more students request mental health services.

“We have certainly seen an increase in the mental health service needs of students over the past decade, with an even higher increase in the past few years, given all the challenges in the larger world,” Patel said.

Decreased stigma in seeking mental health services may also be contributing to increased requests for care, though Patel noted that some students are still not comfortable asking for assistance.

In addition, today’s students face challenges including ongoing grief and loss, systemic oppression, racialized trauma and war – all while navigating a pandemic.

“All this coalesces to cause students to feel that the world is a much more unsafe and complex place for them to navigate,” Patel said.