November 20, 2017

Penn reveals steps to improve campus mental health services

Mental Health Universities
University of Pennsylvania campus Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice Staff

The Quadrangle at the University of Pennsylvania.

The University of Pennsylvania will soon expand efforts to strengthen the quality of its campus mental health services, adding new support staff and launching a community campaign for student wellness.

In a letter addressed to the university's undergraduate and graduate communities, Penn president Amy Gutmann revealed the Ivy League school's latest plan to address an area that has persistently resurfaced as a concern among the student body.

On October 30, Penn held a Campus Conversation inviting students and faculty to discuss ideas about how to bolster Penn's resources for struggling students and others in search of counseling. The event arose in part from a string of student deaths at the start of the fall semester, as well as a troubling pattern of suicides totaling more than 12 in the last five years.

After reviewing student comments and expert advice from the Campus Conversation, Gutmann said the university will start by hiring five additional full-time staff members for the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) office. Students will soon see expanded hours and reduced wait times for the program they identified as most in need of new resources.

The university last year committed to an $8,000 annual budget for the student-run Penn Wellness group, an umbrella organization for a variety of mental health-focused support services. The current push will look to better align administrative operations with the feedback received from students during ongoing campuswide conversations.

Working under the broader Campaign for Community, Penn's new Campaign for Wellness will develop new programs and initiatives to support a healthier college experience. Through the College Houses and Division of Recreation, for example, Penn will rededicate resources to its "take your professor to lunch campaign," as well as other ideas inspired by student suggestions.

"The health and wellness of the Penn community are our highest priorities," Gutmann said. "The Campus Conversation was merely the start of what we hope will be a comprehensive wellness campaign. We look forward to continuing the conversation to ensure we are doing all that is possible to sustain a community in which everyone can thrive."