The Rackham Graduate School has announced the creation of the Committee on Graduate Student Mental Health and Well-Being.
This initiative recognizes that graduate student mental health has direct and disparate consequences for the academic success of all graduate students, and it therefore needs the continuous attention of the graduate school, graduate programs, and all who mentor and work with graduate students.
The committee’s formation follows the recommendation of a task force on the subject that Rackham convened in 2019.
Creating the standing committee was the first of 10 recommendations the task force made to Rackham in its 2020 Year 1 report, all of which were accepted by Dean Michael Solomon.
Much of the task force’s second year was devoted to developing this committee’s mission and structure, including the creation of an advisory group drawn from across campus to take advantage of the wealth of perspectives and expertise offered by the U-M community.
Central to the committee’s mission is the establishment of a mental health and well-being advocate program, which would see mental health advocates embedded in graduate programs across the university.
“Working with Rackham to create an advocate program that has the knowledge and tools to assist programs and connect academic expertise to the work of mental health professionals is one of the committee’s first priorities,” Solomon said.
“I appreciate the progress the mental health task force has made in developing such a program, and I look forward to the committee being able to pilot it in the year ahead.”
Among the report’s other areas of focus were the creation of a resource for graduate programs and mentors that provides an overview of the major stressors in graduate school, as well as principles and approaches for supporting graduate students during stressful times.
The task force also began work in a new area not covered in its Year 1 report, but which emerged from the events of the summer and fall of 2020 — the impact of policing on graduate student mental health. Sara Abelson, a task force member, committee member, and Ph.D. candidate in public health, developed a survey to better understand the relationship between the two, and while the work remains ongoing it has already revealed clear and significant correlations. The topic is expected to be a major focus of the new committee in the coming academic year.
In addition, beginning this academic term, Rackham will set a normative expectation that graduate programs require annually updated mentoring plans for their students.
Other recommendations from the Year 1 report remain ongoing and include:
- Amending Rackham Program Review to include mental health and well-being in the upcoming 2024 review cycle.
- Creating Rackham staff positions to centralize efforts to better support graduate student mental health and well-being.
- Developing programs focused on preventing and addressing toxic cultures within graduate school.
- Increasing access to long-term mental health care through an increased number of embedded Counseling and Psychological Services counselors, access to wellness professionals, peer mentoring and teletherapy.
- Increasing awareness of existing resources and development of additional skill-building programs for graduate students.
- Changing leave policies, including the creation of a short-term leave option.
“On behalf of the Rackham community, I would like to thank all members of the task force for their continued work and for the progress they made, especially given the challenges of the last year,” Solomon said. “I look forward to continuing to more fully realizing their recommendations in the years ahead, and to better supporting our students’ mental health at all stages of their graduate school journey.”