Graduate students create committee to support mental health

COGS wants to inform graduate students about mental health access and to de-stigmatize mental illnesses on campus.

Michelle Griffith

The University of Minnesota’s Council of Graduate Students created a mental health committee this semester in an effort to de-stigmatize graduate student mental health.

The five-member committee aims to ease access to mental health resources by streamlining services into one comprehensive platform for graduate students. 

Graduate students are more than six times as likely to experience depression and anxiety compared to the general population, according to a study published in Nature Biotechnology magazine. 

Many graduate students at the University access Boynton Mental Health Services and Student Counseling Services, but some students seek out resources the University is unable to meet, committee members said. 

“I very much appreciate that Boynton is here on campus and SCS and everything that they are doing, but for graduate students coming in, they may be looking for something else,” said Brett Heischmidt, chair of COGS’s mental health committee. 

Boynton and SCS often have long wait times and only see students a certain number of times a semester, he said. 

The University offers a health plan to graduate assistants who work 195 hours per semester and are registered for the number of credits required for the job.

“What we have under our health plan is more — you can go out into the community and find a health care provider,” Heischmidt said. 

COGS’s mental health committee hopes to record videos of students, staff and administrators talking about their mental health history, Heischmidt said. By creating videos of administrators and staff members discussing their own mental health journey, the committee aims to de-stigmatize mental health on campus. 

“It’s people here on the University of Minnesota and administration — these people still had successful careers,” Heischmidt said. 

Graduate students can experience different levels of stress than undergraduate and professional students, said Kelly Wallin, COGS’s representative to the Student Senate Consultative Committee. Because many graduate school programs are isolated and loosely-structured, students need to be more self-reliant, which can cause stress, Wallin said. 

Also, many graduate students know the kind of mental health resources they need, which may differ than some undergraduate students, Wallin said.

“I think [it’s] more common for graduate students than undergrads to come in and know, like ‘I want this type of doctor, this is the service I want and this is, or is not, going to meet my needs,” Wallin said. 

The graduate assistant health plan is covered under HealthPartners insurance provider. Graduate assistants pay a $10 co-pay for a mental health service in HealthPartner’s network for each use, said Matt M., a member service representative at HealthPartners, who could not disclose his last name due to HealthPartners’ policy. 

The COGS mental health committee wants to create a map showing the location of mental health clinics and providers around the University campus, Heischmidt said. 

There are 324 separate clinics within about a five-mile radius of the East Bank campus, according to Matt M.

By using the mental health committee to make graduate students more aware of services, the committee hopes to destigmatized mental illness, Heischmidt said. 

“What we are doing in this committee is bringing [mental health] awareness to a higher level, if you will,” Heischmidt said.