OSU Mental Health Initiative

Excerpt from Kay Redfield Jamison’s memoir “An Unquiet Mind” (1995):

… my mood would crash, and my mind would again grind to a halt.  I lost all interest in my schoolwork, friends, reading, wandering, or daydreaming.  I had no idea of what was happening to me, and I would wake up in the morning with a profound sense of dread that I was going to have to somehow make it through another entire day.  I would sit for hour after hour in the undergraduate library, unable to muster up enough energy to go to class.  I would stare out the window, stare at my books, rearrange them, shuffle them around, leave them unopened, and think about dropping-out of college.  When I did go to class it was pointless.  Pointlessand painful.  I understood very little of what was going on, and I felt as though only dying would release me from the overwhelming sense of inadequacy and blackness that surrounded me… 

On occasion, these periods of total despair would be made even worse by terrible agitation…the only way I could dilute the agitation was to run along the beach or pace back and forth across my room like a polar bear at the zoo.  I had no idea what was going on, and I felt totally unable to ask anyone for help.  It never occurred to me that I was ill; my brain just didn’t put it in those terms (p. 44-45).

The personal story of best-selling author and psychiatry professor, Kay Redfield Jamison, Ph.D. reveals in vivid detail her experience as a college student struggling to perform despite suffering from a depressive episode accompanied by agitation/anxiety.  It’s perhaps obvious in this piece that her symptoms temporarily impaired her substantial intellectual capacities and her ability to translate ambition into educationally purposeful activity.  But is this generalizable to students as a whole?

A recent landmark study by Eisenberg, Golberstein & Hunt (2009)* examined the question of how mental health predicts academic performance as measured by both grade point average (GPA) and dropping-out.  They found that depression alone had a significant negative association with GPA, causing a decline of 0.17 points.  Depression concurrent with anxiety was associated with a further drop (total decline of 0.40 points).  To put this in perspective consider that for a student who began in the 50th percentile with a GPA of 3.61 s/he would drop to the 37th percentile with depression alone and with the addition of anxiety would sink to the 23rd.  With regard to dropping out, the study found that depressed students have a 12.7% likelihood of dropping-out as compared to the average probability of leaving school prematurely which was 8%.  This represents an increased risk of 60%!

The Division of Student Affairs understands therefore that the state of a student’s mind significantly determines their capacity to perform academically and thereby affects OSU’s ability to produce, “… graduates competitive in the global economy, supporting a continuous search for new knowledge and solutions, and maintaining a rigorous focus on academic excellence…” (Oregon State University Mission, 2012).

But what factors on the Oregon State University campus are most proximally related to maintaining mental well-being?  Similar to those that determine states of physical health, we understand these to include the habits/daily practices of the individual as well as the social, physical and policy environment that surrounds them.

In collaboration with the larger campus community, the OSU Mental Health Initiative aims to clarify both: 1) the importance of attending to student mental health and 2) the mental health promotion priorities on our campus.  We intend to energize and organize key campus stakeholders to increase the most impactful individual and environmental supports for mental well-being and to reduce key risk factors in the service of improved student performance academically and socially.  Feasible, affordable, and cost-effective measures for preventing and treating mental disorders exist, and are being implemented worldwide, as seen within the WHO's Mental Health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP) (Ban Ki-moon, 2011). 

So, we join in common purpose with partners such as the World Health Organization, the United Nations, the United States Surgeon General, Institutes of Medicine, National Institutes of Mental Health and others.  These institutions have all publically committed to the promotion of mental health as a top strategic priority.  We’re united by the common understanding articulated by the United States Surgeon General whose  Report on Mental Health (1999) stated, “Americans are inundated with messages about success – in school, in a profession, in parenting, in relationships – without appreciating that successful performance rests on a foundation of mental health.”  Please join the OSU Mental Health Initiative as we work to energize and organize members of our campus community.  “Let us pledge today to invest in mental health.  The returns will be substantial.” (Ban Ki-moon, 2011)

* The study was conducted with a random longitudinal sample of 2,800 college students.



Eisenberg, D.; Golberstein, E.; and Hunt, J. B. (2009).  Mental health and academic success in college.  The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, 9(1), Article 40.  Retrieved from http://www.bepress.com/bejeap/vol9/iss1/art40

Jamison, K. R. (1995).  Night falls fast. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

Ki-moon, B. (2011, October 5).  Secretary-General, in World Mental Health Day message, urges scaled-up investment in feasible, cost-effective measures for preventing, treating mental disorders. New York: United Nations.  Retrieved from http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2011/sgsm13860.doc.htm

Oregon State University (2012).  Mission Statement. Retrieved from http://oregonstate.edu/main/mission

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (1999).  Mental health:  A report of the Surgeon General.  Rockville, MD:  National Institutes of Mental Health.