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The Undergraduate Council of Students: Now is the time to act on mental health

For the past two years, the Undergraduate Council of Students has discussed the alarming deficit in the mental health resources available to Brown students. We have previously proposed tangible solutions that have not yet come to fruition, and we feel compelled to reiterate our concerns, particularly in light of recent events. More than ever, our community needs substantial change in the support system for students: now is the time to act.

While some progress has been made in the past year with the addition of Counseling and Psychological Services staff members and the improvement of the CAPS website, we believe that there is still a need for substantial enhancements to our mental health support system. UCS asserts that the health and safety of students should be Brown’s highest priority. Accordingly, our administration must act immediately to build on the current system and dedicate desperately needed resources to this crucial area for Brown students.

The most critical deficit in the current system, which has been discussed at length, is the seven-session limit at CAPS. Seven sessions are insufficient for the development of a full, supportive relationship with a mental health professional; it is unreasonable to expect students to form meaningful relationships with CAPS staff members before transferring these students to a different psychologist. We fully understand and acknowledge that CAPS is in dire need of resources, beginning with the number of staff members available to students.

To that end, two actions must be taken. First, Brown needs to prioritize mental health resources in its upcoming capital campaign, with the ultimate goal of creating an endowment for mental health resources at Brown. There are alums who care deeply about this issue and would be eager to donate to a mental health fund, especially with the heightened community awareness surrounding recent incidents on campus. Second, we need to create a long-term care transition system. There will always be students who require more care than the Brown system can provide. Therefore, we must prioritize an overhaul of the process by which students find a long-term professional service provider. Many students have expressed that it is difficult to find a community practitioner who meets their needs. CAPS should hire several case managers who facilitate the transition process for students and follow up with them to ensure that they are getting adequate care.

We also urge the University to asses the possibility of creating a Student Wellness Center, as proposed by the student group Project LETS. This communal space would host peer-run support groups on various chronic mental illnesses, art-therapy sessions and other wellness activities such as yoga, meditation and nutrition advice. This initiative is but one facet of a larger goal that Project LETS works to promote: peers reaching out to peers, being there for one another and creating the campus culture of students supporting students.

Additionally, we need to support other student groups, like Active Minds and Students for Samaritans, in their endeavors to encourage campus dialogue around mental health issues. It is vital that students are constantly engaged — academically, socially and otherwise — in continuous conversations around wellness behaviors, mental health issues and disorders at every stage of the Brown experience.

We also ask the University to consider the implementation of a student intervention team, in which trained students would staff a mental health crisis hotline for their peers. While legitimate concerns have been expressed about the impact this initiative would have on student staffers, this model is being used successfully at peer institutions and merits serious consideration.

It is also essential that our community is aware of the mental health resources available to us. Students are largely unaware of available resources — a problem we can easily take steps to correct. Starting at orientation, information about CAPS and other mental health resources on campus should be proactively disseminated so that all Brown students know they are entitled to support. We must provide additional support for international students during their orientation and throughout the year, especially since many of these students are farther from their home support systems.

It is important that the administration employ multiple forms of media — such as email, text or postering — in order to convey important phone numbers and resources that can aid students in acute crises. In particular, these communications should highlight academic support systems, such as the reduced course load options provided by the Office of the Dean of the College and the academic accommodations provided by Student and Employee Accessibility Services. This increased communication would be particularly beneficial to juniors and seniors, who are often left without the tailored guidance given to first-years and sophomores.

Unfortunately, according to 2014 UCS fall poll data, Brown students on average feel relatively low confidence when it comes to referring themselves or a friend to resources when they need help with an academic or personal issue. It is vital to the wellbeing of the student body that students know not only how to get help for themselves, but where to direct a friend who may be struggling.

We acknowledge that the issues highlighted in this letter have been repeatedly discussed, but the failure to act on those discussions compels us to write to the administration again today. The widespread campus response to recent events has further demonstrated to UCS that our community is in crisis. We must continue to work toward a positive campus culture so that students feel comfortable seeking the resources they need, and we look forward to a prompt administrative response to this letter.


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