Dear Dartmouth community,
Dartmouth is committed to creating a culture of care and community and promoting the mental health and well-being of our students, faculty, and staff. As part of this commitment, I write today to share progress on our comprehensive efforts to realize this goal. Specifically, I would like to provide an update on Dartmouth's partnership with the JED Foundation. Today's is the first in a series of messages that will highlight the JED recommendations, our well-being initiatives, and our next steps.
As a reminder, Dartmouth initiated a four-year partnership with the JED Foundation in 2021 to strengthen mental health and try to prevent suicide at our undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools. This initiative followed a particularly difficult few years that included the loss of students, faculty, and staff amid the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Partnering with the JED Foundation has involved several steps, including a self-study to explore our policies and procedures, a student survey (the Healthy Minds Study survey), and site visits by representatives of the JED Foundation to each of our schools. JED compiled information and provided suggestions for consideration covering a range of areas—academic, physical campus, crisis and health services, student life, and more. The recommendations were broad. This past fall, we composed working groups to review the recommendations and develop actionable next steps specifically for our campus community. These working groups are now beginning that work (e.g., conducting listening sessions, advancing discussions across units, developing communications).
Today's message includes key takeaways from the nationwide Healthy Minds Study survey (HMS) that was administered at Dartmouth in fall 2021. The national dataset disproportionately represents undergraduate respondents; however, we found there were enough similarities between undergraduate, graduate, and professional student responses at Dartmouth to feel that the national survey provides useful context.
While comparisons with the national HMS dataset can help us to understand Dartmouth's experience within the context of a larger national mental health crisis, these comparisons are in no way intended to diminish the complex and deeply personal nature of pain and hurt that our Dartmouth students experience, nor do they lessen our commitment to the magnitude of work that lies before us as a community.
Additionally, I want to acknowledge that viewing these data can be difficult. At the bottom of this message are a few of the resources that you may use if you are experiencing any elevated stress.
Healthy Minds Study Student Survey
The Dartmouth data presented below are compared to data from the HMS Winter/Spring 2021 report, which includes data from 103,748 students at 102 colleges and universities. Some data presented by Dartmouth below and on our website are not included in the HMS report; therefore, in some cases, comparison data are not noted.
At Dartmouth, we administered the survey to all current undergraduate, graduate, and professional students; responses were received from 2,506 students. This equates to an overall response rate of 34.5%, which is higher than the national average. About half of our responses were from undergraduate students and about half from graduate and professional students.
Key Healthy Minds Study Takeaways
The following data highlight key information collected from the survey. Differences across student populations are reported descriptively; analyses for statistical significance have not been performed at this time. Unless otherwise noted, these data points are fairly consistent across the undergraduate, Geisel, Guarini, Thayer, and Tuck responses.
Mental Health Concerns
- Depression and anxiety: Compared to the national HMS sample, Dartmouth students report similar or lower rates of prior depression (19%) and anxiety (26%) diagnoses and similar or lower prevalence of reported risk for moderate to severe depression (33%) and anxiety (27%).
- Eating disorders: Dartmouth students report similar rates of prior eating disorder diagnoses (6%) to the national HMS sample; however, a higher percentage of Dartmouth students report being at risk for eating disorders (28%). Female students (34%) and transgender, gender-non-conforming, non-binary, and genderqueer (TGNQ) students (46%) are more likely to report being at risk for an eating disorder than male students (18%).
- Alcohol consumption: About half of Dartmouth students (50%) reported consuming no alcohol or consuming alcohol at a low-risk level in the two weeks prior to taking the survey and about half (50%) reported having engaged in high-risk drinking at least one time during the preceding two weeks. About 27% reported consuming no alcohol, and about 23% reported consuming alcohol at a low-risk level. Among students who reported consuming alcohol in the two weeks before taking the survey, 68% reported having engaged in high-risk drinking at least one time during those two weeks. This is higher than the national HMS sample (59%). Among all Dartmouth students who reported alcohol consumption in the two weeks before taking the survey, male students were more likely to report at least one instance of high-risk drinking in the previous two weeks (73%) than students of other genders, and undergraduates (75%) were more likely to report at least one instance of high-risk drinking than graduate and professional students (58%).
- Suicidal ideation: 11% of students reported having seriously thought about attempting suicide in the past year, similar to the national HMS dataset (13%). Underrepresented minority (URM) students were more likely to report suicidal ideation (14%) than white students (10%) and Asian American/Asian students (10%).
Stigma and Help-Seeking Behaviors
- Perception of mental health stigma: Consistent with the national HMS data, perceptions of public stigma are much higher than personal stigma. Thirty-eight percent of Dartmouth students believe that most people will think less of someone who has received mental health treatment; however, only 10% of students report that they would think less of someone who receives mental health treatment.
- Help-seeking behavior: While most students identified one or more people at their school that they would talk with if a mental health problem were affecting their academic performance, about one in three students (32%) would not talk with anyone.
Community and Belonging
- Community and belonging: 17% of students did not feel like they have a community, group, or social circle where they belong at Dartmouth and only 59% reported feeling that they "belong" at their school.
- Peer support: Most students report that their school is a campus where people look out for each other (81%). Perceptions of peer support at Dartmouth are especially strong, with 89% of students agreeing, to some extent, that students are working to promote mental health at their school.
- Anti-racism: About 63% of underrepresented minority (URM) students felt that their school is actively working to combat racism, compared with 73% of Asian American/Asian students and 76% of white students.
- Sense of purpose: While about three-fourths of Dartmouth students report leading a purposeful and meaningful life, a sizeable percentage do not feel that sense of purpose and meaning (11%) or have mixed feelings (11%).
- Financial stress: 33% of URM students reported feeling stressed about finances often or always compared to 15% of white students and 17% of Asian American/Asian students (17%). Similarly, graduate/professional school students were more likely to report often or always feeling stressed about finances (26%) than undergraduates (16%).
- Food insecurity: Graduate and professional students report that within the last year the food that they bought did not last and they did not have money to buy more at a similar rate to undergraduate students (about 7-8%).
Additional data, including more comparisons to the national context, can be found on our JED website.
The Healthy Minds Study survey will be readministered to all Dartmouth students in the final year of the partnership (academic year 2024-2025) to identify areas of growth and opportunities for continued improvement.
Actions and Next Steps
As we share the JED findings with the Dartmouth community and advance our work to strengthen student mental health and wellbeing, it is my hope that we will improve the entirety of the Dartmouth student experience inside and outside of the classroom.
Dartmouth is committed to providing the leadership, tools, and resources to promote student mental health and well-being. Next month, I will summarize the JED Foundation's recommendations and the ways in which we are working to prioritize those recommendations and determine our next steps and actions. Details will be posted to our JED website as they become available.
As a final note, I would like to remind you of our support resources. Please see the list below.
Best wishes, and be well,
Provost David Kotz '86