University of Minnesota Alumni Association


From the President

Focusing on Mental Health

Student mental health is such an important topic for me and among our campuses. One of the first questions I receive when travelling throughout Minnesota and across the country (and now across our Zoom rooms) is around student mental health.

When I started at the University of Minnesota in July 2019, approximately 42 percent of our students had a mental health diagnosis in their lifetime, which is consistent with national numbers. This issue is particularly significant for female students, with nearly half (48 percent) reporting a mental health condition in their lifetime. Nationally, severe depression, suicidal thinking, and rates of self-injury among college students have more than doubled in less than a decade, and the pandemic has served to heighten these challenges.  

As a University, we can see important and impactful work related to student mental health happening all around us, from the expertise of our researchers and scholars to the work of our student advocates and internal and external partners. Yet, we also recognize the need to do more and do better to synergize this work by pulling together comprehensive, multifaceted campus-wide efforts, including through our shared public health approach, based on research and evidence, to serve students.

As a first step, we undertook a systemwide inventory of all activities, resources, and programs related to mental health so that we knew where we stood, where there were gaps, and where to move forward. We also launched a special donor fund focused on mental health initiatives across the University of Minnesota system. Its success is in large measure a result of the generosity of alumni and supporters like you, and we are most grateful. 

In October 2020, we brought together our partners at Minnesota State to cohost the first ever statewide Student Mental Health Summit. And in the months since, we’ve seen how this joint effort is catalyzing the work of so many professionals in responding to college mental health challenges, and how it is informing our new student mental health Initiative, the President’s Initiative for Student Mental Health (PRISMH), which we launched in February. [Ed. Note: See the "Under Pressure" story for more on this effort.]

PRISMH is rooted as a systemwide effort through our new strategic plan, MPact 2025, with a centralized and coordinated communications function supported by University Relations. The initiative represents the broad ecosystem of mental health, from upstream efforts/partnerships to on-campus support and service delivery. The initiative will be culturally responsive and tasked to consider where we can leverage higher education resources for students across the state of Minnesota and beyond.

I am very pleased to note that the champions of this Initiative are U of M alumnae: Family Social Science Professor Tabitha GrierReed (M.A. ’99, Ph.D. ’04, Ph.D. ’05) and Senior Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Maggie Towle (B.A. ’81).

Under their leadership, and with the support of friends and supporters like you, this initiative intends to be a real ally in maximizing our students’ opportunities to be well, and in particular, around their mental health.

We’re making sure our students can be their best selves while they are here and when they graduate and join our alumni worldwide.

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