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University News

Students call for greater mental health resources

Open forum attendees suggest expanding dialogue on mental health, supporting peers

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, April 2, 2015

Students suggested expanding the University’s mental health resources in the wake of the death of Hyoun Ju Sohn GS Tuesday at an open forum Wednesday hosted by the Undergraduate Council of Students. Student representatives from the Mental Health Community Council attended the forum to discuss the council’s efforts and gather recommendations from community members.

MHCC members Dolma Ombadykow ’17 and Maggie Jordan ’16 began the meeting by reviewing issues MHCC has discussed, including coordination of different support services — such as Counseling and Psychological Services, Student and Employee Accessibility Services and support deans — overhauling the CAPS website, Residential Peer Leader and Meiklejohn training on mental health issues, leave-taking, alcohol and drug use and response to mental health emergencies.

Increasing the available number of CAPS sessions, which currently stands at seven per year, is a priority, Ombadykow said. “We know the seven-session limit is a huge problem.”

Peer institutions, some of which do not even have formal session limits in place, average about 12 sessions per student, Ombadykow said. The current limit has emerged as a major issue in this year’s UCS elections, with all three presidential candidates supporting an increase.

Following the MHCC representatives’ statement, UCS President Maahika Srinivasan ’15 solicited suggestions for what should be done in the  short term to help the community heal following Sohn’s death Tuesday. “We are a community in crisis. We are a community in shambles right now,” Srinivasan said. She hoped the discussion would help ensure that “we’re all safe, supported and feel like we really are a part of this community,” she added.

Students offered a variety of ways to increase support, such as guiding professors on how to address the incident, increasing the availability of peer support systems and clarifying what types of resources best suit different needs.

Discomfort in using the Sciences Library and the Center for Information Technology also emerged as an issue, particularly for students who need resources such as late-night computer access. UCS will investigate short-term ways to make the SciLi and the CIT’s resources available elsewhere, possibly through an extension in the Rockefeller Library’s hours, Srinivasan said.

The discussion then turned to potential long-term changes.

Some recommendations focused on the importance of more effective dissemination of information. Students are often unaware of all of the available services, such as support groups and academic accommodations, said UCS Chair of Academics and Administrative Affairs Elena Saltzman ’16. Students may also feel unsure about where to turn for help late at night or during emergency situations, said UCS general body member Sam Rubenstein ’17. Orientation for incoming students should incorporate this information, said UCS general body member Kevin Garcia ’18.

International students face unique challenges, as they may lack support from far-away family members or have been raised in a  cultural environment in which seeking help for mental illness is highly stigmatized, said UCS Chair of Student Activities E-Soo Kim ’15. Sohn was an international student from South Korea.

The MHCC has discussed these issues and may consider changing the international orientation program, Ombadykow said.

Several students stressed the importance of increasing the availability of mental health resources. In addition to raising the seven-session limit, students suggested hiring additional CAPS staff to reduce appointment wait times, which can often be two weeks or more, as well as making more student-run support programs available.

A student proposal for a 24/7 student-run support line has also been discussed, but the idea of a student-run help line is “scary” for administrators and raises liability issues, Srinivasan said. Administrators want students to “prioritize being a student” before shouldering others’ burdens, she added.

The MHCC has also explored the possibility of a help line staffed by psychiatry students at Alpert Medical School, but a medical student on the MHCC said medical students themselves lack support resources and would have little time to staff a help line, Jordan said.

Residential Peer Leaders, Meiklejohns and other student leaders need particular support, since they bear the responsibility of supporting others, Srinivasan said.

UCS general body member and UCS presidential candidate Justice Gaines ’16 expressed uncertainty about what actions to take if a friend were experiencing suicidal thoughts. The MHCC has discussed the idea of holding an open training session, similar to the training RPLs undergo, to teach students strategies about what to do in this situation, Jordan said. UCS will pursue this possibility along the lines of bystander training for sexual assault, Srinivasan said.

But several students pointed out that there are significant structural barriers to consider in Brown’s treatment of mental health issues. CAPS operates based on a short-term treatment model, and Brown may not be the appropriate setting for long-term therapy, Ombadykow said. UCS general body member John Brewer ’17 also discussed the possibility of fundraising targeted toward supporting mental health.

Many discussion participants advocated fostering campus dialogue about suicide and mental health issues. Mental illness should be destigmatized so that students are more comfortable seeking help, Gaines said.

Several pointed out that Sohn’s is not the first suicide to have happened at Brown this year, but that it has received far more attention due to its public nature.

“The only reason we’re talking about this is because of where it happened and how it happened,” Gaines said. Had Sohn’s death happened in a different way, students probably would not be talking about it publicly, Gaines added.

The difficulty of balancing a family’s wishes for privacy against the need to undertake conversations about mental health emerged as another topic of discussion at the forum. Several students said dialogue should focus on the overall problems of suicide and mental illness rather than any particular individual.

UCS members aim to put pressure on the administration to change mental health policies in a letter about the perceived campus culture of silence surrounding the issue. “There’s no dichotomy between working with the administration and embarrassing them,” Gaines said. “You often do need to go there.”

Going forward, the community cannot “let this conversation trickle out in any way,” Srinivasan said. “That is in some ways an existential crisis for Brown — to say, shit needs to change.”

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  1. Katherine Stewart says:

    I’ve heard of this natural product called EMPowerplus that helps to manage mental health. Tons of people swear by it. Here is a link to their website.

  2. Again, grad student are left out of the mental health at Brown conversation. Being grad students on board! Clearly we need these resources too, but the Graduate Student Council doesn’t seem to take this event as a clarion call to increase its profile in campus-wise discussion. Shame, shame.

    • Current GS says:

      For your information, there was a strong, moving gathering of grad students, staff, and administrators on Tuesday night. There was also a discussion at last night’s GSC, which was attended by the head of CAPS and the director of the Int’l Student and Visitor Experience, and there *is* and will be advocacy on these fronts. Moreover, the International grad advocate gave impassioned voice to spurring greater campus engagement and discussion on mental health issues. AND an individual graduate student spoke to articulate needs and shortfalls which Brown should be addressing to combat many of the difficulties international graduate students face.

      I am a current international, first-generation graduate student. I have struggled with loneliness, desperation, cultural disconnect, depression, anxiety, and even bullying while at graduate school. This week’s loss was an utter heartbreaking tragedy. And all you have to contribute is to throw false aspersions at the GSC, graduate student advocates, and community that are patently false and offer no helpful contribution.

      There is indeed a clarion call. You just weren’t listening, assumed the worst, opened your mouth and inserted your foot. You’ve succeeded in adding to the pain. Congratulations.

      Next time, focus on saying something helpful, or take your ignorant insults elsewhere.

      Shame on you.

    • Concerned Current GS says:

      See up complete response GS 03, but shame on you for being a jerk and not even going to the GSC’s webpage to see if they had something to say about this. Ever heard of partial coverage? This a prime example. Well done on your asinine comment.

      Shame, shame, shame.

  3. Another GS says:

    BDH, can we also PLEASE stop writing as though something the UCS is hosting stands for all students. GSC was probably talking about this stuff at the same time, and this article completely ignores it.

    It *is* wonderful to see undergrad students having this discussion, and perhaps there should be follow-up opportunities that bring undergrads, grads, meds, faculty and staff together to talk about the full splay of informational, attitudinal and functional problems on campus surrounding mental health.

    But for goodness’ sake, do us all the decency of listening to–and reporting on–the ENTIRE Brown student body. Grad students are in pain too–and we’re coming forward and talking. Until the BDH gets over this assumption that UCS is the sole, exclusive voice of the ‘student’ body, you’re just part of the same old problem.

  4. Brown '16 says:

    “A student proposal for a 24/7 student-run support line has also been discussed, but the idea of a student-run help line is “scary” for administrators and raises liability issues, Srinivasan said. Administrators want students to “prioritize being a student” before shouldering others’ burdens, she added.”

    Students have been trying to start something like this for years. CAPS has been remarkably unreceptive, citing liability concerns and lack of resources to support. Student-run support lines exist at most peer institutions (Harvard, Yale, Stanford, etc.) The fact that students want to start a hotline (and that research has demonstrated students’ interest in utilizing such a service), but that officials within the University have failed to support this effort is extremely disappointing.

  5. Current Grad says:

    Dear BDH, and by extension GS03 : the mental health issue is one that the GSC tackled even before UCS got representatives on the mental health council or even before the MHC existed.

    A simple BDH search yields these results which show that there are a number of tireless advocates who have said many times in the past few years that the grad student community at large and the international community in particular were BADLY underserved on this campus.

    If the BDH wants to keep playing the zero-sum game and consider that everything given to grads is taken from undergrads, even when it’s patently untrue and even if those grads are your professors, and if the BDH wants to keep misrepresenting the GSC as doing nothing to help this issue, then I have to point out that the BDH’s own pages contradict this stand.

    We also had a GSC meeting about this. Why wasn’t it covered? It isn’t an UNDERgrad who died, but a GRADUATE student. Why didn’t the BDH send a reporter at GSC? Or even to interview the GSC officers and ask if there had been interest in this subject at the GSC before Henry’s death?

    And just from your own pages, BDH:

    “Representing graduate students from all backgrounds is another GSC priority this semester. Zins said he hopes “to advocate for those groups who don’t have as large of a voice,” such as international students and those with children.Orientation materials and FAQs catered toward international students’ needs will help these students adjust to American life, Zins said.” (The BDH February 4, 2014)

    “The Graduate Student Council unanimously passed a resolution Thursday evening calling for the expansion of the ombuds office’s jurisdiction to serve all graduate students and for the ombudsperson position to become a full-time post.” (the BDH, April 4, 2013)

    “Vice President of Social Events and Student Life
    for the GSC Acey Sieffert GS expressed concern about the lack of funding for
    large-scale mentoring programs for graduate students. Though they are older,
    graduate students still struggle to adjust to Brown, Sieffert said, especially
    if they have never gone to school in the United States before. She said she
    hopes to access University funding to organize a graduate student peer mentoring
    program.” (The Brown Daily Herald, March 14, 2013)

    “A common thread of discussion at the forum was the lack of Graduate School awareness, both locally and internationally. Concerns were raised over the disjointed graduate student community on campus and the fact that some people “don’t even know Brown has a grad school,” as Schlissel said.” (The BDH October 3, 2013)

    Even a critical piece on the GSC stated: “the GSC is doing truly excellent work for all graduate students, a lot of which goes unnoticed, but without which the grad community would not be nearly as healthy as it is today.” (April 24, 2012)

    As far as 2011:

  6. Annabelle Blanchet says:

    Discomfort in using the Sciences Library and the Center for Information Technology also emerged as an issue, particularly for students who need resources such as late-night computer access.

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