University News

Students to help reform mental health services

UCS appoints three undergraduates to take part in improving mental health support at U.

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Undergraduate Council of Students appointed three undergraduate representatives to the Mental Health Community Council Tuesday, said UCS President Maahika Srinivasan ’15.

Maggie Jordan ’16, Dolma Ombadykow ’17 and Sabine Williams ’15.5 were selected out of a pool of 45 applicants. They will join representatives from the faculty, the Graduate School and the Alpert Medical School at the council’s first meeting Dec. 5.

None of the three undergraduate representatives are UCS members. Positions on the council were opened up to the entire student body and applications were solicited through a Nov. 4 email that Srinivasan sent to undergraduates.

The council aims “to provide advice and guidance on best practices for mental health services and policies,” said Margaret Klawunn, vice president for campus life and student services, who chose the council’s non-student members in conjunction with deans from the Med School and the School of Public Health.  She announced the council’s creation in a Sept. 26 community-wide email.

“We’re reviewing all of our mental health services,” Klawunn said, noting that the council will aim to assess programs and issues in Counseling and Psychological Services, the Office of Student Life, Student and Employee Accessibility Services and Health Services.

The council’s charge outlines four goals for the 2014-15 calendar year: “Review the process for referrals to community providers to ensure that students receive high-quality, well-coordinated care when they transition to community providers,” “evaluate Brown’s success in supporting the needs of a diverse community,” “assess Brown’s policies for medical leaves, readmission and appeals” and “make recommendations on best practices for suicide prevention programs.”

All three student representatives expressed excitement over being selected and having the opportunity to engage in University mental health policy.

Jordan’s interactions with first-years as a Women’s Peer Counselor for the past two years propelled her to apply. “Some of them have been really well-supported and some of them have not, and I would really like to see what we can do to make sure that all students feel adequately supported,” she said.

Jordan said as a representative, she will advocate shortening the two-week wait time for CAPS appointments, hiring diverse new faculty members “so that students from all different kinds of backgrounds can feel safe getting help,” and increasing outreach and education to lower the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Ombadykow said she was inspired to apply for a position on the council after helping UCS develop a resolution on mental health policy and presenting it to administrators. The resolution “pointed out a lot of flaws with CAPS, and I thought there was a lot of work that could be done by the student body to make those changes,” she said.

Two main issues that Ombadykow aims to prioritize are reforming leave-taking policy and increasing the seven-session limit for CAPS appointments. “CAPS should be more than a crisis intervention — it should be able to help students at all stages of mental health and their treatment processes,” she said. “I’m most passionate about making sure that students can receive long-term care at Brown.”

Williams, who is returning after a semester of medical leave for mental health reasons, expressed her desire to act on issues that affected her as a student of color when navigating the leave-taking process. She experienced personal difficulty finding a therapist and psychiatrist of color as well as frustration with the seven-session limit at CAPS. She added that she felt out of place while pursuing mental health support — a sentiment shared by other students she spoke with who identify as people of color, immigrants, children of immigrants or people from low-income backgrounds.

The fact that other students felt they faced similar barriers reassured Williams, who has a Haitian heritage and comes from a “background where mental health and seeking therapy was not part of the norm.” Williams said she feels closely connected to issues of depression, anxiety disorders and trauma, as well as mental health issues that can arise following sexual assault. “But I also recognize the serious need to better support students (with) other mental illnesses or mental health issues who don’t fall into those categories, which are limited,” she said.

When reviewing applications for representatives, UCS leaders tried to ensure that applicants would bring diversity, a passion for the issue and a true understanding of current mental policy to the council, Srinivasan said. UCS looked for “people who had concrete ideas for what they wanted to see changed and visualized an improved mental health system,” she said.

The large number of applicants, compared to the single digits for other University committees, “signaled a desperate need to talk about mental health and have more opportunities for students to be involved in talking about improvements and talking about engagement,” Srinivasan added.

“All three candidates have incredibly different personal backgrounds, campus involvements and experiences with mental health and CAPS,” said Sazzy Gourley ’16, UCS vice president. “So together, they can speak to a broad range of student experiences with mental health on campus.”

“There were so many powerful experiences that people wrote about in their applications, but there were also a lot of really creative solutions and ways that we can move forward in addressing a lot of the concerns that students have,” he added.

The council was created both for procedural reasons and in response to campus-wide dialogue about mental health policy, Klawunn said. “We’ve also been paying attention to some of the concerns that students have brought forward, and we’ve been looking at ourselves, our own services, and saying it would be good to have some further discussion. Issues change — they change depending on changes in our culture, changes in our population, and so we want to make sure that we’re keeping up with the ways that we’re seeing different needs.”

The council is chaired by Butler Hospital Medical Director Steven Rasmussen ’74 MD’77 P’13 and comprises Columbia University Counseling and Psychological Services Director Richard Eichler, Professor of Behavioral and Social Sciences Kate Carey, CAPS Director Sherri Nelson, Associate Director of CAPS Jacqueline Twitchell, Associate Dean and Director of Student Support Services Maria Suarez, Director of Health Services Unab Khan, University Chaplain Janet Cooper Nelson, Professor at the Medical School Megan Ranney, Associate Dean of the College for Health and Personal Issues Carol Cohen, Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior Tony Spirito, Director of Student and Employee Accessibility Services Catherine Axe, Associate Dean of the Graduate and Medical Schools Jabbar Bennett and Klawunn.

Other student representatives include Lianna Karp MD’16, who was chosen by the Medical Student Senate, and Michael Murphy GS, who was selected by the Graduate Student Council.


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  1. lower the stigma surrounding mental illness
    Not sure why you want to teach there is one. Any idea why you do?

  2. Tom Bale '63 says:

    Glad to hear of the 3 students appointed to the Mental Health Community Council. Their participation demonstrates a key aspect of effective mental health treatment: ownership of therapy is in the hands of the client/patient. Not the professional clinician. Many who seek help learn this during treatment. They are the ones in the driver’s seat. This awareness can lead to a sense of empowerment, feeling an increased capacity to take on life at Brown and in the future.

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