illustration of girl at window with coffee cup


Illustrations by Tartila

The psychological health of young people—ranging from adolescents to college students to young adults establishing careers—is being challenged like never before. In the last decade, there has been a discernible rise in reports of anxiety, depression, trauma, and eating and drinking disorders. One in five adolescents, those between the ages of 12 and 17, has had or will have a serious mental health disorder. In the case of college students, a recent survey revealed that 41 percent reported being so depressed at some point during the last 12 months that they found it difficult to function. Suicide, or thoughts of it, is on the rise, too. Rutgers is addressing the behavioral health needs of young people by developing new treatments and training the next generation of mental health providers in integrated academic, research, and clinical settings. What follows are some of the ways Rutgers has been answering  the challenge.

Addressing Sexual Violence
Promoting safer campuses through prevention, awareness, and support

Rutgers is committed to ending sexual harassment and violence and stalking on campus, and the mental health ramifications of them, by raising awareness at the university. The We R Here campaign—created at the Center on Violence Against Women and Children at the School of Social Work—alerts students to resources in New Brunswick, Newark, and Camden and works to increase student involvement in ending the violence and supporting survivors. The university maintains four Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance (VPVA) offices, which help ensure that members of the Rutgers community receive the services they need. VPVA offices also strengthen the university’s communication about and response to sexual misconduct and engage students, faculty, and staff in  its prevention. 

Public, and Private, Lives
Taking the lead in mental health services for the LGBTQA community

Perry N. Halkitis, the dean of the School of Public Health (SPH), leads research initiatives to improve mental health services for the LGBTQA community. SPH offers a master’s degree program with a concentration in LGBTQA health. His new book, Out in Time: The Public Lives of Gay Men From Stonewall to the Queer Generation (Oxford University Press, 2019), examines the psychological implications of coming out for three generations of men.

Illustration of young man sitting at bar

Drinking and DNA
Understanding the genetic role in heavy alcohol consumption

A Rutgers-led study has discovered that binge and heavy drinking, a reality on college campuses, may trigger a long-lasting genetic change in the body, leading to an even greater craving for alcohol. Researchers revealed that two genes implicated in the drinking behavior had changed among those studied: the more they consumed, the greater the genetic changes. “This finding may contribute to new ways to treat alcoholism or help prevent at-risk people from becoming addicted,” says Dipak K. Sarkar, director  of the endocrine program at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences.

A Complete Recovery
Coming to the psychological aid of children recovering from cancer

Adolescent survivors of cancer often experience depression or anxiety after spending much of their lives in hospitals and doctors’ offices. Caregivers are often focused on the long-term physical effects of cancer treatment, not fully realizing its psychological impact, according to Margaret Masterson, an associate professor of pediatrics at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. She is also the medical director of LITE (Long-term, Information, Treatment Effects, and Evaluation), a program available at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey that helps survivors of childhood cancer address all of their health challenges, including mental health.  

Lifelines of Support
Providing assistance through 24/7 call-in centers

University Behavioral Health Care (UBHC) provides crisis-support helplines for young people. Specialists at the New Jersey Suicide Prevention Hopeline provide clinical support for suicide prevention around the clock. UBHC is also affiliated with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which offers similar assistance. 

High-Tech Affliction
Assessing youth’s addiction to technology, in all its forms

Addiction to technology—be it video and computer games, internet surfing, and online shopping—is a growing mental health problem, and young people are not immune. In the Department of Psychiatry at New Jersey Medical School, professor Petros Levounis and resident James Sherer NJMS’17 research the effects of technological addictions. In November, the department presented the Seventh Annual Conference on Urban Mental Health, which this year addressed this mounting affliction.

Illustration of sad doctor

Healing the Healers
Teaching medical students to keep a healthy balance

Job burnout is a reality in the medical profession, felt acutely among mental health care providers—and often early in their burgeoning careers. Rashi Aggarwal, a psychiatry professor at New Jersey Medical School who directs residency training, is part of a national task force that created a website where psychiatrists, 40 percent of whom suffer from burnout, can educate themselves about self-care and wellness. Robert Wood Johnson Medical School is also emphasizing the need to seek counseling and assistance. Last year, more than 17 percent of its students took advantage of the school’s Student Wellness Program. Gianna Seeland RWJMS’19 and student Amita Risbud helped develop wellness events to educate medical students. “Ironically, pursuing a career in the medical field often pushes students to sacrifice their own health, well-being, and personal relationships to succeed,” says Risbud.

Gamblers: Anonymous No More
Partnering with New Jersey to address addictive behavior

People with a gambling addiction—and it can affect young adults—suffer from higher rates of alcohol and substance abuse as well as suicide than the public. They typically go unidentified unless seeking treatment. Researchers at the School of Social Work’s Center for Gambling Studies, in partnership with New Jersey’s Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services, is piloting a screening, intervention, and referral tool that can be used by health professionals in a variety of settings, including primary care practices. The pilot project, which will be launched this academic year, will refer people at risk to a state treatment and services network.

Early Assessment
Providing treatment for young people with anxiety and depression 

The Youth Anxiety and Depression Clinic, an outpatient specialty program available at the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology, treats child and adolescent anxiety and depression. Therapists, who are advanced doctoral students in the clinical and school psychology programs, provide diagnostic assessment and cognitive behavioral therapy for young people ages 9–17. The research clinic uses treatments that are evidence-based and supported by the latest research in child and adolescent psychology.

The Good Book
Getting to the root of developmental psychopathology

Four years ago, Michael Lewis, University Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry and director of the Institute for the Study of Child Development at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, coedited the Handbook of Developmental Psychopathology, Third Edition (Springer, 2015). It has become the leading text in child developmental psychopathology for researchers, clinicians, scientist-practitioners, and graduate students in fields such as developmental psychology, psychiatry, social work, child and school psychology, educational psychology, and pediatrics. It contains the research of developmental psychologists whose findings confirmed an emerging theory at the time: that adult psychopathology could be traced to childhood experience and behavior.  

Children in the City
Expanding mental health outpatient service for Newark’s youth 

A federal grant of $4 million is allowing University Behavioral Health Care (UBHC) to expand its mental health outpatient program in Newark, helping vulnerable patients by integrating behavioral and physical health care. The expansion qualifies UBHC as a Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics model. By increasing access to primary and preventative care services, the outpatient clinic will help children with serious emotional disturbances—and also preemptively identify behavior that can lead to substance abuse through screenings.

Epidemic Proportions
Training medical students to combat opioid abuse

Every day, roughly 130 people in the United States die because of opioids, yet the vast majority of opioid abusers do not receive treatment. New Jersey Medical School (NJMS) is one of the first medical schools in the United States to train all students, through its federally certified curriculum, to prescribe buprenorphine, and other medication-assisted treatments, for those with opioid-use disorder. The Department of Psychiatry at NJMS and University Behavioral Health Care are also offering required buprenorphine training for New Jersey prescribers. 

Illustration of sad girl during a rainy day

TLC for Young People
Offering a program for youth coping with trauma

Amid the rise in school violence and teen suicides, the Traumatic Loss Coalitions for Youth Program (TLC) at University Behavioral Health Care is helping. When a tragic incident affects students, TLC counselors, available in every New Jersey county, visit schools to help students cope with feelings of grief, loss, and fear. As New Jersey’s primary youth suicide prevention program, TLC offers educational outreach to ensure that adults working with young people have the latest information about mental health issues and suicide prevention. 

A Hub of Help
Forming alliances to provide the best in mental health services

The School of Health Professions received $4.2 million in federal funding last year to create a regional Mental Health Technology Transfer Center—one of only 10 organizations nationwide. The center is putting research findings into practice more quickly by informing the mental health workforce of the latest findings, and it is creating alliances among organizations that provide mental health treatment and recovery support services. Among its initiatives, the center held a Mental Health Summit for New Jersey school superintendents during the summer.

Student Aid
Joining a national network to strengthen assistance to students

To support the well-being and mental health of Rutgers’ 70,000 students, the university has joined JED Campus, a nationwide initiative of the JED Foundation designed to help schools evaluate and strengthen their mental health, substance misuse, and suicide-prevention programs and systems and to ensure that schools provide strong mental health safety nets.