Back to School

A pilot approach to supporting the mental health needs of college students

Wendy Cadge (Brandeis University), Shirah Hecht (Brandeis University), Hadassah Margolis (Brandeis University), and Alexander Levering Kern (Northeastern University)

Funded by the Ruderman Family Foundation

Recognizing the enormous mental health needs of college students — even before the current pandemic — this pilot project tested whether mental health professionals and spiritual care professionals could offer students more as partners than either group alone. This approach is based on research the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab has conducted in recent years as well as an awareness that the one-on-one support offered both by therapists and chaplains on university campuses cannot be scaled to meet current demand.

The project offered two support groups per semester:

  • One undergraduate and one graduate group
  • Groups facilitated on campuses of both Brandeis University and Northeastern University

All four support groups were be co-facilitated by a therapist and a chaplain from the respective campus. We partnered with students on each campus to build partnerships with diverse student groups to co-sponsor and promote these support groups.

At Brandeis, the groups were co-facilitated by Hadassah Margolis and Peggy-Anne Tio from the Center for Spiritual Life. Simona Shuman ‘22 and Darryl Cabrol ‘22 contributed to the work at Brandeis. At Northeastern, the Center for Spirituality, Dialogue, and Service coordinated with Margolis to provide support groups.

What this project accomplished

  • Each of the support groups ran for five weeks by Zoom
    • Sessions were one hour in length and focused on how spirituality and mental health impact each other, how spiritual practices and beliefs are important to one’s own wellbeing, and how to incorporate these practices and beliefs as part of one’s self-care routine.
  • We assessed the effectiveness of these groups for students through short surveys participants complete before and after each five-week session.
    • Feedback from fall groups was used to improve spring groups and allow us to consider scaling this approach beyond Brandeis and Northeastern.
  • We offered a live-only webinar in the late spring of 2021 describing the pilot and making recommendations for colleagues interesting in trying it on their campuses.
  • We produced a brief eBook about this effort.