Graduate students face a number of challenges as they work toward their degrees, but none can be more overwhelming than those associated with mental health. Because of this impact on the graduate student experience, GSAS partnered with Harvard University Health Services to conduct mental health surveys in a variety of programs. Thanks to excellent response rates, we’ve learned a great deal about the scope of mental health problems throughout our student body.
But this is not an issue limited to GSAS. Over the past several years, institutions of higher education across the country have seen an increase in reports of mental health issues from students and in their subsequent use of related services. As part of the University’s ongoing efforts to address this issue, Harvard has taken a leading role in convening a task force on managing student mental health, charged with examining how Harvard can best address the mix of academic, social, and institutional issues that have the potential to influence student mental health. I’m pleased to report that the task force includes students as well as faculty and administrators, and their input will be crucial as we develop University-wide solutions.
In addition to serving on the steering committee, I am leading the working group on graduate and professional students. GSAS students comprise a third of this category, and our PhD students are unique at the University in that they usually take five years or more to earn a degree. The information we’ve already gathered through our mental health surveys will help inform the development of a broad strategy, one that can effectively support all students. I also intend to consider these results as part of the advising project GSAS will launch during the upcoming academic year.
I am pleased that the University is focusing on this important part of the student experience. Ultimately, this is about improving the lives of students—their lives as scholars and their lives as human beings. I’m particularly drawn to a line in the document that lays out the task force’s role: “Mental health is not a problem to address in a few students but an element of well-being to cultivate among all.” That is very well said and something we all should bear in mind as we address this critical work.
Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences