UCS open forum on mental health


In response to the loss of a community member this Tuesday, UCS hosted an open conversation in Faunce last night, accompanied by two student representatives from the Mental Health Community Council. The main conversation topics were announced at the meeting’s start: In the wake of this suicide, what needs to be done immediately, and what can be done in the long term future, so that all community members feel safe and cared-for?

Students at the meeting said they wanted to talk about what had happened in their classes, and expressed satisfaction with the conversations their professors had facilitated in smaller courses. Other students were upset that their professors hadn’t mentioned anything. One person proposed that the administration email tips or guidelines to professors on how to breach this topic with their students. Notably, there was widespread dissatisfaction with the decision to uphold the no make-up policy for the Orgo midterm, which also happened last night.

Understandably, plenty of students don’t want to study in the SciLi or the CIT right now. Those present at the meeting agreed it would be helpful if the University could temporarily supplement the 24 hour resources, offered by those buildings, at different spaces on campus.

Extended Deans’ office hours were helpful, and students hoped they would continue for more than just a couple of days. People also said that the peer support groups were great, because some people don’t want to talk to professionals, or have had previous negative experiences with CAPS. There was an emphasis on the importance giving support to those providing peer support.

Overall, there was a desire for more cohesiveness and organization in all of the support services available, as a well as a suggestion for small explanations to accompany each service number. (For example, if you are seeking an extension on coursework in order to cope, you should call a Dean.) In terms of distributing information on services available: the more emails, the better.

In accords with that topic, a lot of students didn’t feel fully aware of the academic and emotional support resources available to them at Brown. Some of the perhaps lesser known options available are:

  • Work reduction options that are a great middle ground if you don’t want to take a leave of absence. You can also take an incomplete in the middle of the semester, instead of dropping a class, and you have a year to finish that incomplete.
  • For emotional services, if you absolutely need to talk, but you don’t want to say it’s an emergency, you can call DPS and ask for the administrator on call. They will call you back within 15 minutes. You can also call EMS if your friend needs to talk to somebody, and EMT will be sent to their room–just to talk–for as long as they need.

Most students said they didn’t know what to do if their friend was experiencing a suicidal episode. A possible solution could be an orientation activity for incoming freshman, where everyone would be briefed on the protocol to follow if they thought a peer was in danger of harming themselves. It might be possible to offer the same training services that RPLs receive (on mental health issues) to a wider audience, similar to the bystander intervention programs. One concern that arose with that was, “walking a fine line between training as a safety net, versus students feeling that they are qualified to diagnose other students.”

Someone suggested specific support systems for international students, now that we know that the deceased was an international student from South Korea – a 14 hour time difference from the East Coast. For some international students, calling a family member in a moment of crisis isn’t always an option. It was suggested that international organization leaders reach out to students.

There was also suggestion to de-stigmatize ‘asking for help’ with incoming freshman. Plenty of students, regardless of where they are from, come from homes where utilizing a service like CAPS would be considered embarrassing or unnecessary

One student said, “We’re only talking about this [suicide] because of where it happened, and when.” This is not the first suicide at Brown to occur in the academic year, but it is the first one to be publicized. Often, the University cannot disclose whether a community death was a suicide or not, because the family of the deceased asks for privacy. Some people in the room had known Brown students in the past year who had committed suicide. They said it was very alienating that the rest of campus did not acknowledge it. “It wasn’t a lack of institutional support, but more that everyone else was going about their day like nothing was different.”

Everyone present wanted the dialogue about suicide on campus to be more open and persistent. “We have to respect the gravity of the issue.” The conversation could also be shifted from the specific details of the deceased to the general topic of suicide, and suicide prevention, in order to respect the wishes of the individual’s relatives. Someone else pointed out that these conversations only arise after completed suicides, and not attempted ones.

Naturally, CAPS came up a lot in the conversation. Right off the bat, one of the student representatives from the Mental Health Community Council said, “We know that the 7 session limit is a huge problem, and we’re working on it.” One student voiced concerns at the low number of psychiatrists available, making it difficult for students to get prescribed medications in an urgent manner.

CAPS is also a short term model, regardless of whether we increase the session limit or not. There was some concern over pouring money into a “broken system.” A lot of students cited their own frustrating experiences with transitioning from sessions on campus, to finding a long term therapist in the area that matched up with their insurance. The University could work on making that transition easier, and focus on enabling constructive, long term therapy, as well as providing short term emotional support. Despite these other options, there was still a nearly unanimous push to raise the 7 session limit, and soon.

Finally, almost all of the issues involving a lack of resources for mental health, are issues of funding. There needs to be more money put towards this. In the future, alumni could get involved by making specific donations to this cause.

UCS and the MHCC stressed that “this was not an empty conversation.” Both Christina Paxson and Margaret Klawunn will be personally receiving the notes from the meeting, and these efforts will be followed up on rigorously.

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1 Comment

  1. I’m glad that there are communities that teach how to behave with people who have experience of a suicide. Really important

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