First-year orientation at Brown consistently includes three things: the famed ice cream social, Convocation and the mandatory, full-class, three-part lecture series. Every year, the University invites a variety of speakers to give incoming first-years the tools they need to discuss diversity, drink responsibly and seek consent in sexual encounters. Noticeably lacking from this series and the orientation program in general is a mandatory discussion of mental health at Brown.
The 2015 first-year orientation schedule offered an optional event in which Counseling and Psychological Services staff presented the resources available to all students and hosted a panel of students who discussed their experiences with CAPS. While this event did help to spread awareness about the resources CAPS provides, it did little to provide all students with a working knowledge of mental health.
This gap in programming is not without consequences. Brown students are naturally overachieving, and freshman year is associated with its own set of pressures: Many students are faced with living independently for the first time while beginning an academically rigorous course of study in a brand new environment. Unsurprisingly, mental illness is prevalent on many college campuses, including Brown’s. In a survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in three students reported experiencing prolonged periods of depression. And in a 2013 survey of 125,000 students from more than 150 colleges around the country, more than 30 percent of students who sought services for mental health issues reported that they seriously considered attempting suicide.
The Brown community grapples with these issues as well. CAPS estimates that 25 percent of Brown students have been previously medicated for a mental illness and 40 percent have previously sought counseling before coming to Brown — yet only 17 percent of students seek CAPS services. While there could be a number of reasons for this discrepancy, it is clear the University could take an earlier and more proactive approach to increase awareness and access to these resources.
Due to student pressure, the University is making incremental changes. In its 2014-2015 report, the Mental Health Community Council recommended that Brown provide more trainings and workshops to “increase understanding of mental health needs, to provide resource information and to promote the skills necessary to make effective referrals.” This year, the University has already held a training session for the well-known community suicide prevention program “Question, Persuade and Refer,” and there are events planned for Suicide Prevention Day in September and National Depression Screening Day in October. In addition, the report included many more suggestions about how to effectively increase awareness of the resources on campus.
There is a clear understanding that the lack of trainings for faculty advisers, students and staff should be corrected, and a good place to start should have been orientation. Full-class discussions are presently a keystone of the orientation programming — adding another would not pose too difficult of a challenge and would come with great benefits. Not only would Brown students become more aware of the resources and support available to them, but they would also gain the tools necessary to effectively support peers experiencing mental health challenges. By starting to discuss mental health early and openly, we would begin to change the college culture for the better.
Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Manuel Contreras ’16 and Meghan Holloway ’16, and its members, Emma Axelrod ’18, Noah Fitzgerel ’17 and Aranshi Kumar ’17. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.