Penn Forms New Task Force on Student Psychological Health and Welfare

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Media Contact:Ron Ozio | ozio@upenn.edu | 215-898-8658February 19, 2014

President Amy Gutmann and Provost Vincent Price have formed a new Task Force on Student Psychological Health and Welfare.  The Task Force will examine the challenges confronting students that can affect their psychological health and wellbeing; review and assess the efficacy of Penn resources for helping students manage psychological problems, stress, or situational crises; and make recommendations related to programs, policies, and practices designed to improve the quality and safety of student life.

Recent surveys indicate that anxiety and depression are growing concerns among college students nationally, with a significant number taking psychotropic medications.  Events both at Penn and elsewhere testify to the sometimes devastating impact of severe psychological difficulties. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is one of the leading causes of death among those of college age.  More generally, depression and anxiety can be serious impediments to academic progress and the positive student experience the University seeks to foster.

“Like peer campuses across the country, Penn has seen increasing need for psychological support services and programs, and we have worked assiduously to ensure the wellbeing of our students,” said Dr. Gutmann.  “Now is the time to review our work and to ensure that we have in place the best practices in outreach, education, intervention, and treatment.”

The Task Force will be co-chaired by Rebecca Bushnell, School of Arts and Sciences Board of Overseers Professor of English and former Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences; and by Anthony Rostain, Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics and Director of Education for the Department of Psychiatry at the Perelman School of Medicine.  Joann Mitchell, Vice President for Institutional Affairs, will be the vice chair.  Other members of the Task Force will be: Jody Foster, Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry in the Perelman School of Medicine and Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Pennsylvania Hospital; Andrew Binns, Vice Provost for Education; Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum, Vice Provost for University Life; Maureen Rush, Vice President for Public Safety; Wendy White, General Counsel and Senior Vice President; Charles Howard, University Chaplain; and Eric Furda, Dean of Admissions.

“The distinguished members of this Task Force bring both deep expertise and broad experience to the task of addressing these challenging issues,” said Gutmann. “I am grateful for their willingness to serve the Penn Community in this way."

The Task Force will consult broadly both across campus and beyond in executing its charge, calling on faculty experts, student leaders and administrators.  It will draw upon these consultations to examine trends at Penn and elsewhere; review peer practices; and identify optimal means of promoting student welfare and psychological health.

“Addressing these complex issues requires an engaged community,” said Provost Price. “We are fortunate to have many talented, trained professionals already working around the clock to help students in need.  This review will provide an opportunity to consider ways of expanding the scope and reach of their efforts, working in even closer collaboration with Penn students, faculty and staff.”

The Task Force will be asked to conclude its work within the current calendar year and present a final report of its findings and recommendations in early 2015.