Temple mental health task force begins navigating goals

The task force’s co-chairs said the committee will gather its findings by Fall 2022.

Ava Hutchison (left), a freshman marketing major, and Fatema Kitabwalla, a junior neuroscience major, stand near the Bell Tower on March 14. | BRIAN MENGINI / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Temple University’s mental health and wellness task force, officially announced in February, is assessing how they will evaluate existing mental health infrastructure at the university. 

After their first weekly meeting on March 10, the task force decided they will assess various clubs, mental health programs available to student athletes and mental health programs at other universities. 

The task force, which includes faculty, staff and students, plans to gather its findings by the Fall 2022 semester, said Daniel Berman, vice provost for Undergraduate Studies and co-chair of the task force.

While the task force needs to solidify what they will evaluate, Berman imagines they will assess Tuttleman Counseling Services and the Wellness Resource Center because they are focal points of wellness on campus. The task force could also conduct focus groups on mental health and wellness with students and employees not in the task force.

“I don’t mean to say that we’re kind of coming in to do some sort of review that’s going to necessarily shake things up in some way or another, I don’t really know that yet,” Berman said. 

Depending on what campus mental and health and wellness programs they evaluate, the task force could make recommendations for how the university funds, staffs or organizes certain programs, like Tuttleman Counseling, Berman said. 

Provost and Senior Vice President Gregory Mandel announced last month that Temple would create the task force to address rising mental health and wellness concerns in the student body, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The task force will also focus on how Temple can support employees and how employees can support their students.

Students and faculty are navigating various challenges including the pandemic, violence in Philadelphia and the death of a student last semester, said Melanie Cosby, the director of diversity and inclusion in the Office of Health Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine and co-chair of the task force. 

“There’s those things and they impact how people are able to show up in the class, in interpersonal connection, how staff are able to show up at work and be fully present,” Cosby said. 

Students have expressed frustration with wait times and scheduling difficulties at Tuttleman Counseling. 

“The counseling center is a little bit setup for failure, the counseling center can’t be the place that meets all the needs of such a large population of students, many of whom have extensive mental health needs,” said Cosby, who was a psychologist at Tuttleman Counseling before working at the medical school.

Two students, Fatema Kitabwalla, a junior neuroscience major and Ava Hutchison, a freshman marketing major, will be serving on the task force, but Berman is confident that the committee will also be seeking input from students who are not involved in the task force.  

Student Body President Bradley Smutek, who the Provost’s office asked for student recommendations, nominated Kitabwalla to be on the task force last month. Kitabwalla, a member of Tuttleman Counseling’s Student Advisory Board, a group of students aimed at examining Tuttleman’s current practices, is passionate about examining mental health in marginalized communities.

“We have such a diverse population on our campus that I feel like creating one general program would not benefit all the students that we have,” Kitabwalla said. 

Individuals in marginalized populations often have worse mental health because of discrimination, cultural stigmas and a lack of access to high-quality mental health services, according to the American Psychiatric Association. 

Smutek also asked Hutchison to be on the task force in November 2021 because of her involvement in the Tuttleman Counseling Student Advisory Board. 

Hutchison hopes for more programs that are geared toward freshman mental health and wellness, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic and a rise of violence in the city.

“I hope that as a Temple community, we can begin to understand the mental health conversation, while having an understanding of the university and how it’s here helping students,” Hutchison said.

Berman wants to study burnout and anxiety in students, something he has seen a rise in among his students. 

In 2020, 40 percent of students experienced burnout, and in 2021, 71 percent of students had burnout, according to a 2021 Ohio State University study.

“This specific issue of burnout, which I think COVID again exacerbated, certainly anxiety is exacerbated, and if all of us can try to make a difference in that area is something that personally speaks to me,” Berman said.
Fallon Roth and Sarah Frasca contributed reporting.

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