Survey offers insight into how students cope with stress, pressures
Lead researcher Kerry Knox
More than 900 University undergraduates have participated in a survey that may prompt changes to the way professionals approach student mental health on six college campuses.
“We’re not just doing another survey,” says Kerry Knox, associate professor of psychiatry and community and preventive medicine. “It’s being done specifically to benefit students and to improve mental health on campuses.”
The Survey of Student Well-Being, which is being administered on the River Campus as part of the University Center for the Study and Prevention of Suicide, will give researchers a better sense of how students cope with the pressures of college life and what helps them live healthier and happier lives. The survey, though, is just one part of a larger national effort.
Knox, the lead researcher of a multicampus suicide prevention project, says the findings will ultimately lead to changes in the way leaders, researchers, and staff members interact with students. She is working closely with five other universities: Cornell, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Columbia, Harvard, and Princeton.
Representatives from all six universities began meeting in 2004 to discuss ways to better prepare administrators, educators, and mental health professionals against risk factors on college campuses and ensure that the right kind of protective measures are in place. The pro-ject consists of three parts: the surveys, “gatekeeper” training for residential advisors and staff, and training for the University Counseling Center mental health professionals. As of last semester, 80 percent of the clinical staff at the University was trained under the new standards, which prepares staff in areas of care or counseling.
“There are other colleges certainly doing very noteworthy things,” Knox says. “This is really a consortium of these six schools . . . who all agreed to do these three things and do it in a very systematic way and that is what is different about our study.”
The consortium approach brings its advantages, because the research has been duplicated at six different institutions, in six different communities. These variations, Knox says, will offer a broader understanding of students.
The survey results from all six universities, which will likely be compiled by May, can provide insight into the behavior and attitude of college students and in turn help researchers develop and implement more effective programming and intervention training.
“There will be a lot of information for people to digest, but I would anticipate that because we have this kind of momentum we would like to have the next phase roll out soon,” Knox adds.
The goal of the project is to find out what types of risks exist at the schools and the magnitude of the problems. Once those are identified, appropriate changes to the existing structures can be made and new methods of intervention or programming can be developed.
Linda Dudman, associate director for health promotion for University Health Service (UHS), who helped promote and administer the survey, says UHS and the Counseling Center strive to promote healthy behaviors. In fact, they have used surveys in the past to measure how students felt about health and behavior. Recently UHS administrators determined that suicide prevention should be a primary focus area. UHS and the Counseling Center have been working with Knox and her colleagues in the Center for the Study and Prevention of Suicide for the past several years.