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The Dartmouth
May 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

College releases ‘Commitment to Care,’ its finalized strategic mental health plan

In the 26-paged document, the College outlines its action plan to bolster student mental health, employing recommendations from the JED Foundation.

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On Oct. 23, Dartmouth released its “Commitment to Care,” a strategic plan for student mental health and well-being, outlining five long-term “strategic goals” and 10 short-term “action items” that are set to occur this year. The document came into fruition after the College partnered with the JED Foundation, a nonprofit focused on fostering emotional well-being, in 2021, and the “Commitment to Care” is their response to the JED Foundation’s findings on campus.

The 26-paged document follows President Sian Leah Beilock’s promise to make mental health the priority of her tenure. The plan, which was originally slated to come out two weeks after Beilock’s inauguration, comes out after a delay of another two weeks. 

In an interview prior to the announcement, Provost David Kotz said that the priority of the plan involves “student wellbeing.”

“We’re trying to put into place frameworks that will support student wellness throughout their time at Dartmouth,” Kotz said. “We’re helping them develop the tools to stay well so when they graduate and go on into the rest of their life, staying well is their priority.” 

The action items include hiring a chief health and wellness officer, eliminating fees for staying overnight at Dick’s House and an updated medical leave policy that will expand support for students taking time off, which were all previously announced. Dartmouth also plans to invest in mental health education for faculty, assess gaps in peer support programs — such as the Mental Health Student Union and Sexual Violence Prevention Project — and provide resources for students “with diverse lived experiences” to give their input on the plan. 

The report includes a context section on the national mental health crisis, citing issues including climate change, systemic racism and gun violence as particular stressors on college students. It also acknowledges that Dartmouth in recent years has “experienced several devastating deaths, including deaths due to suicide.” The strategic plan highlights the Healthy Minds Survey, a poll by the College in October 2021 that revealed mental health among Dartmouth students is consistent with national trends: 33% of students said they felt moderate to severe depression, 27% reported moderate to severe anxiety and 11% said they thought seriously about suicide at some point in the previous year of collecting data.

The five guiding “strategic goals” are centering well-being, creating an inclusive community, giving students the tools they need to navigate success and failure, “proactively” addressing mental health and investing in “evidence-based approaches.”

According to the implementation timeline, there are 73 action items for the first school year, 16 of which have been accomplished and 18 of which are in progress, while the remaining 39 will be completed by 2028. Some items have been accomplished; for instance, matriculating students who have histories of mental illness are now connected to College resources on campus, whereas the creation of an online resource to help faculty support students is not yet possible until someone is “hired to guide this work.” The action items aim to address “emerging themes pertaining to Dartmouth’s culture,” including but not limited to rural isolation-related challenges, high amounts of alcohol consumption and perfectionism. 

In the document, the College announced it will review academic structures, such as the academic calendar, degree requirements and course review. Notably, the academic calendar will be assessed to understand how it impacts student mental health, with input from students, staff and faculty. Previously, the College implemented a Day of Caring in fall 2022 with significant input from Dartmouth Student Government. DSG currently advocates for a “termly wellness day alternative,” which would require changes to the academic calendar, according to previous reporting from The Dartmouth. 

It ends with a call to measure progress, “to ensure we are making the needed and intended improvements.” Furthermore, the College will “regularly post updates on implementation actions and the outcomes of data-collection efforts.”