Uniting colleges to talk about mental health

Photo courtesy of Mental Health Student Coalition

From Feb. 15 to 17, the Scheller College of Business will host the Intercollegiate Mental Health Conference (IMHC), an event intended to improve how colleges across the United States address the mental health needs of their student bodies. Representatives from schools such as UGA, Emory, GSU, UNC and Stanford, among others,  have been invited to share best practices, to listen to keynote speakers and to network among each other in order to “develop solutions to relevant issues,” according to the IMHC website.

The Joint Allocations Committee (JAC) is contributing $60,000 worth of funding for the conference. The JAC, created by the Student Government Association (SGA) in the wake of the shooting death of Scout Schultz,  is in charge of determining how $1 million of funds will be used for the improvement of mental health and related services across campus. Half of the JAC’s funding is provided by the SGA, and half comes from a matching contribution from administration.

The IMHC is one of six grants that the JAC has approved thus far. Other grants include efforts such as the Georgia Tech Counseling Center service expansion and the installation of swing set on campus.

The IMHC is an effort of the Mental Health Student Coalition (MHSC), a group dedicated to improving mental health resources on Tech’s campus. The MHSC formed in 2013 following the publication of a white paper regarding student mental health and “Tech’s depressogenic environment” by a mental health action team of SGA, according to the IMHC website.    

The Mental Health Student Coalition (MHSC), has asked individual institutions to send at least seven attendees, three of whom would be “undergraduate students involved in mental health and student leadership” according to the IMHC website. The other four slots would be filled by graduate students and non-students, such as faculty mental health professionals.

“The question came: Why are we trying to come up with new programs and policies when they already exist at other schools, and perhaps they’ve existed for such a long time that there’s an extensive amount of qualitative and quantitative feedback on … their effectiveness? That’s the idea that led to the conference,” said Collin Spencer, third year BIO and the director of MHSC.  “It was just a logical progression of thought.”

According to the IMHC website, the goal of the conference will be to “gather the best practices on mental health from college campuses across the nation.”

The best practices gathered from the conference will be grouped into three factors — public resources, mental health policy and technology ­— that each impact six at-risk student groups:  LGBT, international, graduate, transfer, low-income and disabled students.

There will be four keynote speeches during the conference, as well as a number of breakout sessions where the attendees can discuss the questions at hand. There will also be opportunities for the schools to showcase the technologies that have enabled them to improve treatment of mental health on their campus.

“A big part of this conference  … is actually establishing those connections and then utilizing them,” Spencer said.   

The MHSC is working with outside sponsors to help the conference go smoothly. The National Alliance on Mental Illness and the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities have each provided a keynote speaker who will speak on different pertinent issues.

The conference has been constructed so that it will be easy to replicate in the future.

“[We have] had conversations with the administration, and it’s definitely something that they want to see happen again,” Spencer said. “We will have the entire process already set up by the time we have hosted the first time, so in the future all anyone  has to do is pick a different set of topics and do it again.”