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Editorial: Brown mental health services need improvement

Mental illness is a very real issue affecting university students. College-aged young adults are at a period of personal growth and discovery as well as academic, social and extracurricular stress, which effectively creates a perfect storm of risk factors. These statistics give some idea of the big picture: One in four 18- to 24-year-old students have a diagnosable mental illness, and more than 10 percent of college students reported being treated for depression within the past year in a 2012 American College Health Association survey. What is worse, mental illness is simultaneously one of the most stigmatized and least discussed issues affecting students on college campuses around the country. Many students around the country report feeling tremendous pressure not to disclose their mental health information because of the stigma they fear is associated with it. In addition, students at many universities feel that their schools are either incapable of or insufficient in dealing with mental illness; a recent Yale Daily News article reported that some students asked to leave the school for mental health-related issues were not even seen by the psychiatrist in charge of making the decision.

Brown’s Psychological Services, too, has come under criticism from the student body. Two noteworthy articles — one an open letter to the Brown community from Okezie Nwoka ’13, the other in post- Magazine — expressed the belief that Brown’s mental health infrastructure is lacking in the way it addresses students’ problems. So the question remains a major issue for both this school and the wider abstract of college campuses: What can and should be done in terms of mental health support?

One idea that Brown should seek to implement is a peer counseling program. Many other colleges have this system, which gives students an avenue to talk to other students with whom they may be better able to identify. Student counselors are trained to talk to students and serve as advocates for mental health throughout campus. Sherri Nelson, the new director of Psychogical Services, stated her desire to increase mental illness outreach on campus following her appointment in September. This has failed to fully materialize as of yet, but a peer counseling program would be a step toward achieving these goals.

Such a program would also work toward greater on-campus discussion of mental illness and would likely make students more comfortable with discourse relating to this issue. What’s more, the concept is certainly not foreign to Brown. Peer counseling is not unlike the Meiklejohn system, in which students advise others and serve as resources for any first-year. A peer counseling system would merely extend the system to mental health, allowing for greater campus-wide psychological support.

By implementing a peer counseling program, Brown would at once be working toward removing the stigma of mental illness on campus and be providing a greater resource for those students who are affected by mental health issues. It would be a step in the direction that Nelson said she wants to guide the department. Students need to be brought into the discussion around mental illness on campus; only then will the stigma around mental illness begin to dissolve.


Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Matt Brundage ’15 and Rachel Occhiogrosso ’14, and its members, Hannah Loewentheil ’14 and Thomas Nath ’16. Send comments to


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