Rackham student Julio Ferreira is finishing his second year in the College of Engineering: a critical year for a PhD student. In a few months, he will need to complete his dissertation proposal. Lately, Ferreira has been feeling overwhelmed with the workload he needs to undertake. 

“I really like doing what I do, but I feel like I need some outlet or something,” Ferreira said. 

Ferreira, through his personal life, is familiar with mental health issues. On Thursday, he attended the Rackham Mental Health Task Force’s town hall for graduate students to learn what resources were available to him.

The town hall was part of Rackham’s wider efforts to address mental health issues among graduate students on campus. Registration for the town hall was at full capacity with nearly 100 attendees. The Rackham mental health task force first informed attendees about resources available and feedback it has received on its activities. 

Meghan Duffy, task force chair and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, said many students are unaware of the support mechanisms in place. 

“One of the most common things we’ve heard is that a lot of people don’t know what resources are available,” Duffy said.

Duffy also noted students and staff do not know when to utilize which resources. In addition to informing students about the available options, however, the task force is looking to make improvements regarding mental health in three areas: Rackham as a whole, departments within Rackham and individual graduate students. 

This year, the task force will aim to identify specific changes to make at these levels and develop a plan to support identified changes, Duffy explained. Next year will involve implementation of the task force’s decisions. 

Attendees participated in a group discussion, producing ideas such as wellness counselors for each department, training for faculty members and making graduate students more aware of what resources are appropriate for specific situations. 

Rackham student Sarah Bork studies engineering education research and is focusing her dissertation on engineering graduate student mental health. Bork said she attended the event to hear what students who aren’t normally engaged in mental health discussions shared with the panel. 

“I’m just eager to hear the voices of other students and perspectives,” Bork said. “I know a lot about it from different perspectives. As far as getting a concise graduate student voice from different departments who aren’t really as engaged … this is the platform for them to speak.”

Looking forward, the task force aims to collect data on mental health among students and to host more events to solicit feedback. Coffee house meetings and additional town halls are planned for the winter and spring semesters. 

Bork, who is also in Rackham student government and several mental health advocacy groups, plans to actively participate in these events. 

“I’m also coming from an engineering background and different backgrounds that may not be as represented on the task force itself,” Bork said “There may be a misalignment in what they think may be a good idea versus what is, which is what this (task force) is for.”

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