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Wang '12: Care for those around you

The result of a recent nationwide survey in Japan shocked the nation's psyche and put a dent in its pride for its people's renowned longevity: in the country with one of the world's largest populations over the age of one hundred, 234,000 Japanese centenarians listed in government records are now reported missing and may have died long ago. Some walked away from home and their children didn't bother to report their disappearance, some died alone at home and went undiscovered by neighbors and some deaths were deliberately concealed so that surviving relatives could continue to collect the deceased's pension or social security checks. Despite long-time advocacy among many in the west of Japanese-style healthy diets and robust health care system, their old people's salubrious lifestyle and the excellent health services the public offers them by no means justify the neglect and poor care the elderly are supposed to get from the people closest to them — families and neighbors.

My thoughts could not help but fly to my fellow Brown students, as absurd as it may sound. Brown students were ranked as the happiest in the United States in 2009 by the Princeton Review, and being a Brunonian almost certainly means being positive and self-fulfilled. Yet beneath that invincibility of youth that sets Brown campus far apart from a nation full of centenarians, there is an underreported mental health issue among our students. Discussions concerning the mental health of Brown students are rare on this campus. Although I am not questioning that Brown students are given the opportunities to lead a happier life than other college students, the mirth and felicity we associate with youth and Ivy League life should not be taken for granted.

Recalling my two years of life at Brown, I have been surprised and always distressed by the high number of friends and classmates taking leaves due to mental health issues, and in most cases, it usually took me a long time to figure out that some friends are no longer around until the truth was quietly and discreetly whispered during a dinner chat with their closest friends. However partial my experience may be, the existing problems with mental health of the student body deserve our attention.

The good news is that Brown psychological services recently hired a new psychotherapist after a report showed that its resources were lower than peer colleges, which means that from now on, students' limited free psychotherapy sessions are increased from five times to seven times per year. It also means a much shortened wait for a counseling session. I praise the University's awareness of the importance of student mental health and its willingness to better staff the psych service. But I doubt that the mere increase of a psychotherapist solves all our problems.

First of all, it doesn't address the psych services' lack of resources. If the psychotherapy session is the only professional, confidential and intimate way to tackle students' mental health issues, the one-to-one session appears to be inefficient and insufficient in dealing with a large number of students in need and sometimes seems too formal to those with less concrete and acute issues. So in addition to increasing the availability of psychotherapists as a way to maintain students' mental health, another step that could be taken by the University is to expand the education of mental health for students. For example, lectures or panels could be run by experts on topics such as stress management and relationship building, etc., so that a large group of students could be exposed to knowledge of how to manage a stressful academic and personal life and be aware of self-help tools, even prior to the stage of crisis where private counseling becomes urgently necessary.

More importantly, however, the school isn't the first or the best place we should look to if we are to tackle the problem. Back to the story of the Japanese centenarians: it is true that no matter how comprehensive and excellent the system designed by government is in providing care to the elderly, social networks, by which I mean families and friends, are always the most trustworthy and intimate for an individual to rely on. And when networks that are supposed to work and assist individuals fail, even the most superior public services cannot help. The same goes for Brown students. We don't have to doubt the commitment by the University or the dedication and professionalism of the fantastic and helpful people at psych services, but we know earlier and better about our fellow students than University officials. There is some guilt on all of us when we fail to reach out to our friends, detect their problems, and help them at their time of need.

As a past wall post in a Rock restroom says: I wish people really meant it when they ask "How are you?" So call up a friend of whom you seem to have lost track, including on Facebook, ask them how they are doing and really mean it. Because that is what a friend is supposed to do.




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