Recent developments in mental health resources suggest improvements, yet lingering concerns
The College’s response to students’ mental health during the pandemic has shaped how new resources have been developed, often with significant student feedback.
This article is featured in the 2023 Freshman special issue.
For years, discussions about student mental health have been prevalent on campus. While not entirely comprehensive, a variety of factors — such as the College’s remote location and the short yet intense 10-week terms — contribute to students’ high stress levels, according to past reporting from The Dartmouth. In recent years, however, discussions of mental health increased sharply among students and the administration. In the months before the pandemic, students criticized the lack of counselors at Dartmouth College Health Service and insufficient mental health resources. The College’s medical leave policy also became a source of frustration due to aspects of the process that did not support students, according to a student who went on medical leave.
The pandemic only highlighted pre-existing mental health concerns. In particular, pandemic isolation among students and the death of three members of the Class of 2024 illustrated the College’s insufficient mental health resources. Following the 2020-2021 academic year, the College announced its partnership with the JED Foundation, a nonprofit promoting emotional health and suicide prevention.
Three years after the onset of the pandemic, various mental health resources have arisen from different campus facilities and organizations. These resources, many of which are free for enrolled students, demonstrate how students and the administration responded to increasing discussions of mental health.
In January 2020, Sanat Mohapatra ’20 founded Unmasked, an anonymous social media platform geared towards peer support. In fall 2021, Eva Yao ’23 founded FORT — a nonprofit aimed at covering the cost of students’ mental health bills, in addition to hosting events seeking to destigmatize discussions of mental health.
In September 2022, the College announced that Headspace, a wellness app, would be available for students, faculty and staff for free. The following month, the College announced that all Dartmouth students would be able to register for Uwill’s teletherapy services in November at no cost.
Mollie Berry ’25 signed up for Uwill’s teletherapy services in late fall, noting that the free cost was an important factor for her.
“Had it not been free … I definitely would not have used it,” Berry said.
Similarly, Natalie Halsey ’25 noted that the free cost was “one of the primary reasons” she signed up for Uwill’s services.
Both Berry and Halsey positively rated Uwill’s teletherapy service but mentioned minor issues. Berry noted the brief 30-minute duration of the sessions, while Halsey had to change her therapist after their license expired. However, both said these flaws did not outweigh the benefits of the service.
According to previous reporting from The Dartmouth, in February 2023, around 800 students had signed up for Uwill and attended over 1,800 counseling sessions since November.
According to previous reporting by The Dartmouth, various services at the Student Wellness Center, such as mindfulness and yoga sessions, offered both an asynchronous and live Zoom option during the pandemic. The Dartmouth Student Mental Health Union also provided virtual resources, such as daily peer support sessions, during the pandemic. Nowadays, both virtual and in-person services are provided, according to the SWC and the SMHU’s websites.
This past spring, the Counseling Center and SWC collaborated to facilitate the Student Support Network program, which was originally founded in 2017. In an email statement to The Dartmouth, counselor and SSN co-facilitator Stefanie Jordão wrote that the main goal of the program is to create “a culture of care.”
The program is also available for graduate students, comprising one fourth of participants in the spring, Jordão wrote.
In addition, Dick’s House offers short-term individual counseling, Dartmouth Cares Suicide Prevention and group therapy, among other services. However, some students have experienced difficulty scheduling medical appointments, in addition to less-than-pleasant encounters at triage appointments.
Mariana Cepeda ’25 recalled making a triage appointment her freshman year. During the meeting, a counselor “made her cry,” which discouraged her from making another appointment. However, following that meeting, a separate organization referred her to a specific counselor at Dick’s House, which resulted in a more positive experience.
Berry noted that before trying Uwill, she had tried using the Counseling Center but felt that the process was “impersonal.”
“I tried a couple of different times … it was discouraging, because the appointments were so far out,” Berry said. “And then there was this questionnaire that made you write down everything that was going on, [asking] why you think you should see a counselor or why you need to talk to people, and it was just kind of impersonal.”
Jordão wrote that since Uwill launched in November, the Counseling Center has not seen a change in students who used their services, suggesting that “Uwill services are tapping into a section of the student body who might not otherwise engage in counseling.”
In regard to questions about appointment availability at Dick’s House, Jordão wrote that in the past academic year, 86% of Counseling Center triage appointments were scheduled “between 0-5 business days” — 0 business days indicate that a student was seen the same day they called.
Student Government Initiatives
In 2021, Student Government ran a pilot program with Calm, an app designed to help improve stress levels and encourage meditation. According to student body president Jessica Chiriboga ’24, who also serves as co-chair of DSG mental health committee, the program ran before the SWC ran a pilot program with Headspace. The College ultimately pursued Headspace’s services in September 2022 after the evaluation of quantitative and qualitative data from the two programs.
“When the Student Wellness Center started doing their Headspace app pilot, a couple months later, we sent over all of our quantitative and qualitative data to them, so we could evaluate both of those options,” Chiriboga said. “We had a mechanism for allowing students to evaluate these two options to ultimately choose what was the best mindfulness app for our institution.”
Over the last year, DSG expanded the amount of mental health resources available for students. According to their website, the mental health committee helped bring Uwill, created and designed a “tranquility room” in Baker-Berry Library in February 2023, created a Mental Health and Wellness Resource Guide for the Winter Term 2023 and facilitate the purchase of sunlight lamps for students to use at Baker-Berry, among other initiatives.
According to Chiriboga, last fall she and her predecessor, David Millman ’23, had pushed an institutional wellness day, which eventually became the Day of Caring held on October 21. Chirboga, Millman and Kiara Ortiz ’24 directly met with the Board of Trustees to discuss a possible wellness day.
“We made a direct ask to them about the need for a termly wellness day, especially with the loss that we had experienced and also reiterated our support for a termly wellness day going forward,” Chiriboga said.
During fall 2022, the community mourned the deaths of three students, Alex Simpson ’22, Joshua Watson ’22 and Sam Gawel ’23.
Chiriboga said that while DSG is still advocating for another Day of Caring or “termly wellness day alternative” in the academic calendar, changes to the calendar require faculty approval “at least a year in advance.” In the meantime, she said that DSG is looking into student feedback from the Day of Caring.
Ortiz, who is now student body vice president, said that following the Day of Caring, DSG sent a student issue survey, in which an “overwhelming” number of students would like to see a “pausing of classes” once a term. However, she noted that there is room for improvement.
“We have been getting positive responses from the issues we’ve advocated for, but obviously, there’s a long way to go, you know — this isn’t the end all, be all,” Ortiz said. “We are looking to improve, and we’re looking to strive for the best that Dartmouth can provide.”
Mental health remains an important conversation among students and the administration. According to Chiriboga, DSG is in the process of developing more mental health resources, such as creating outdoor wellness spaces on campus and providing rooms for students to use during Uwill counseling sessions. In addition, Chiriboga said DSG hopes to implement and audit the JED Foundation Steering Committee’s recommendations when it is released.
The College’s mental leave policy is also undergoing significant changes. In June, Provost of the College David Kotz announced changes to the policy, including changing the name, language and other aspects that aim to “better support students taking time away to care for their mental and physical well-being.”
Despite these changes, some students feel that the College’s approach is not working. According to Cepeda, many of the College’s mental health resources are not widely known to students.
“I feel like [the College] has done what they’re supposed to do — I feel that quality is the real concern and how much people know about it,” Cepeda said. “I don’t think people know that they can just go to Dick’s House and do a triage and just schedule a meeting … [it’s about] advertising it and making it an approachable thing.”
Another issue also lies with how mental health is discussed at Dartmouth. According to Halsey, many discussions of mental health do not discuss other issues such as trauma.
“There is a discussion of mental health on campus, but it’s often the sort of acceptable forms of mental health, like mental unwellness [or] burnout or academic stress,” Halsey said. “ I don’t think there’s a bigger conversation on campus about trauma.”
According to Berry, looking into the “root of some of these issues” would be an alternative way to approach mental health at Dartmouth.
“It’s good that we have resources. But there are so many other factors that come into play that cause the decline of mental health on this campus,” Berry said. “I feel like if we would go to the root of some of those issues, then maybe people wouldn’t get to such a dark place … if they would take actual steps to address that, then mental health would greatly improve on this campus.”