University News

Initiative focuses on mental health on campus

Week-long program includes workshops, screenings, scrub-making for students to unwind

By
Contributing Writer
Friday, November 21, 2014

As a residential peer leader, Lauren Galvan ’16 conceived of the idea for BWell Health Promotion Week after polling her residents and observing high stress levels due to classes and college life.

As students prepare for finals period, BWell Health Promotion Week is offering a host of workshops, discussions and activities aimed at promoting students’ mental health. The series of events is the brainchild of Lauren Galvan ’16, who is pursing an independent concentration in mental health and healing.

Galvan, a former Herald photographer, came up with the idea for BWell Week through interactions with peers in Graduate Center C, where she serves as a residential peer leader. She sent out a survey at the beginning of the semester to gauge the emotional well-being of her residents and was surprised to find that many juniors and seniors still struggle with stress induced by demanding classes and dorm life.

“I felt like I had to target that (stress) to fulfill the needs of my residents,” she said. She added that she feels the program serves the needs of the entire Brown community, not just the upperclassmen with whom she lives.

To establish the program, Galvan contacted the director of BWell Health Promotion, a division of Health Services, in late September with her idea to run a series of wellness programs in collaboration with the division.

She cited sexual assaults and suicides in the past few semesters as factors that have negatively affected well-being across campus.

“These two overwhelming, emotional topics have been very highly publicized without there having been a very public message that you need to take care of yourself,” she said.

To kick off BWell Week, Galvan co-hosted a screening Sunday night of “The Pursuit of Happyness” with Students for Samaritans, a student group aiming to prevent suicide and raise awareness of mental health on campus.

Galvan said she was surprised 15 undergrads were willing to take a break from studying on a Sunday night to relax and watch a movie.

On Monday, Mark Rubinstein, a psychotherapist at Counseling and Psychological Services, led a time management and stress relief workshop.”

“We had about 12 people, which was a nice, intimate size,” he said, adding that though he had never led a time management workshop before, he thought it went well.

In the second half of the workshop, Rubinstein focused on teaching students ways to manage stressful situations and reduce their overall stress levels. He led the group in breathing exercises, a practice he has taught to both large groups and individuals in the course of his career.

The series continued with a “Mindfulness in Relationships” workshop Tuesday afternoon led by Assistant Professor of Epidemiology Eric Loucks, whose research focuses on the effect of mindfulness on cardiovascular health.

BWell Week sponsored three events on Wednesday, the busiest day of the program. Brown Emergency Medical Services offered a drop-in CPR clinic in the lower lobby of the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center that taught participants the hands-only method of CPR. The Curricular Resource Center simultaneously hosted “Tea and Gratitude: Make Your Own Thank-You Cards” upstairs.

“The thank-you notes went really well. Someone made one for their roommate,” Galvan said.

On Wednesday evening, Queen Nefertiti Shabazz ’17 — leader of the student group Radical Artists, which runs art therapy programs in Providence — led a workshop entitled “Creating Your Calm: Art Therapy Techniques to De-stress.” Attendees had the chance to make a sugar scrub from scratch while listening to the soothing tones of Enya playing in the background. Shabazz emphasized the importance of sensory elements to mental well-being as she explained how to make the scrubs.

“As a busy college student, when do you actually have the time to touch yourself?” Shabazz asked the group, provoking nervous laughter.

On Thursday night, Michael Snower ’17 helped students find their centers through transformative yoga, which complemented the mental stimulation of previous BWell events earlier in the week.

Frances Mantak, director of health promotion, will lead a self-compassion workshop Friday evening, and Juan Santoyo ’15, a leader of the Brown Meditation Community and a contemplative studies concentrator, is set to lead a workshop on mindful leadership Saturday.

Santoyo said students do not need to hold leadership positions to benefit from his workshop. “As Brown students, we are being trained to be leaders in anything we do.”

He plans to teach attendees practices for dealing with unexpected events and methods of cultivating awareness of the emotional states of both themselves and those around them.

BWell Week will conclude with a “Silent, Mindful Lunch” Sunday with food provided by Kabob and Curry.

CAPS Director Sherri Nelson said the melting pot of campus groups and activities brought together by BWell Week is an example of the way in which CAPS hopes to partner with students in the future to raise awareness about mental wellness. She added that the program complements other plans for student involvement in mental health and awareness on campus that require more time and investment to carry out.

Inspired by the success of the program so far, Galvan said she hopes BWell Week will become an annual series, adding that she plans to coordinate it again next year.

BWell is the new name of the Health Promotion arm of Health Services and has existed for more than 20 years. BWell facilitates outreach for both Health Services and CAPS by hosting a health tip texting service, workshops and events throughout the year. BWell staff members work closely with RPLs and the Brown University Relaxation Project on peer counseling.

“In order to have the reach we need to have, engaging students is key,” said BWell Health Educator Naomi Ninneman.