Unusually high suicide rate prompts new wellness efforts at MIT

Campaigns aim to normalize seeking help

After four student suicides in only one year—and two in the last month—officials at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are revamping mental health resources on campus.

Data show that MIT's suicide rate is 10.2 per 100,000 students over the past decade. That rate is lower than MIT experienced in the previous decade, but remains higher than the national average of 6.5 to 7.5.

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In response, students, faculty, and administrators partnering to reduce stress among students. Recent efforts include:

  • Launching an awareness campaign designed to normalize seeking help;
  • Bringing therapy dogs to a residence hall; and,
  • Asking professors to lighten homework burdens for one week.

Professor George Verghese responded to the chancellor's request to ease workloads for a week by making his homework during that time optional, cancelling a lecture, and leading a trip to the Harvard Art Museums. Verghese told his students that art museums helped him through difficult times in his doctoral studies.

Students told the Boston Globe that the stress is sometimes self-imposed, driven by competitive, high-achieving personalities. Furthermore, international students on campus face the added stress of adjusting to a new culture and home.

But they also say that a four-course schedule can require up to 70 hours of work per week.

Rachel Davis, an MIT junior, says an article on anxiety is the most popular post on her MIT campus life blog. "No problem set is worth your tears," she assures fellow students. 

Survey: Most college students grapple with depression

MIT Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart says she is concerned about mental health on campus. "These are our students, and every death by suicide is so sad and devastating to our community," she told the Boston Globe.

However, Barnhart acknowledges that managing stress levels alone is not enough to "solve the suicide problem." She also encourages students to understand that everyone needs to reach out for help sometimes. In that vein, the university plans to launch an awareness campaign to let students know that "We all struggle together" (Krantz/Rocheleau; Boston Globe, 3/17).

The takeaway: Prompted by four suicides within the past year, officials at Massachusetts Institute of Technology are launching new mental health efforts. To learn more about how to better connect students to resources, view our Mental Health Toolkit.

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