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Faculty Senate addresses Stanford’s mental health services

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The 43rd Faculty Senate convened for the first time this academic year on Thursday, focusing on the University’s mental health services.

At the meeting, Health Services Administrator Ira M. Friedman petitioned faculty to take a more proactive stance against preventing mental health crises among students. The suggested steps include recognizing problems, intervening effectively and referring students to the proper resources early.

“You as a faculty play a critical role,” Friedman said. “Early intervention makes a critical difference.”

Wellness.stanford.edu is the hub for all of Stanford’s mental health resources that combine to make a metaphorical “safety net.” This “safety net” includes over a dozen different organizations on campus including Student Affairs, Public Safety, Athletics, Office of Religious Life and Risk Management.

“We need to be the frontline of that safety net,” added Professor James T. Campbell of the History Department.

Friedman hopes that the increase in awareness of the “safety net” and resources for students will help the faculty feel more capable of reaching out to students in distress.

Caroline M. Hoxby, the Scott and Donya Bommer Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences and a Senior Fellow at Hoover, asked whether there is anything the faculty or the University is doing to contribute to this problem.

“That is exactly the right question to be asking,” Friedman said. “Just phrasing that question is a successful way of looking at the faculty role. The fact that we are addressing student mental health and wellness at the very first meeting speaks volumes to the commitment that the faculty has to these issues.”

Laura Roberts, the Katharine Dexter McCormick and Stanley McCormick Memorial Professor in the School of Medicine and the Chair of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, explained that if we compare our students with other students in the community, Stanford students seem to be doing quite well.

“We are doing a lot right,” Roberts said.

However, there are particular subsets of students who are especially prone to mental illnesses, including those who lack a sense of belonging on campus and those who come from under-represented minority groups.

In the past academic year, nearly 2,300 Stanford students have received help from Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), the University’s resource center for mental health and wellbeing. As reported at the meeting by Friedman, these numbers have increased over the years although they have started to plateau in recent years.

The number of students seeking counseling has become so high – about 14.5 percent of the student population – that CAPS is now experiencing a shortage in staff. Although the Mental Health and Well-Being Advisory Board has recognized the problem of understaffing, the board, which only meets once per quarter, must wait until their next meeting to take further action.

“It’s on the agenda,” Friedman said.

CAPS is particularly busy at this time of year. They are currently receiving a large number of calls, sometimes holding up to 30 phone counseling conversations a day.

In any given week, CAPS receives between 50 and 100 requests for counseling. Students can click on an appointment time and reserve a slot for themselves via the online system. A professional CAPS staff member will then contact them, usually within one to two days, and conduct a 20-minute assessment of the student’s condition.

After this conversation, however, the student may have to wait up to 11 or 12 days for an appointment, depending on the severity of the situation. The average waiting time is a little less than six days.

“Urgent situations are always handled urgently,” Friedman said.

At the same time, Friedman encouraged faculty to push for immediate action if they see a situation that is not being handled quickly enough.

Ron Albucher, the director of Counseling and Psychological services at Vaden Health Center, suggested that the plateau in number of student visits to CAPS could be due to the fact that the CAPS staff has reached its peak saturation point of number of student visits.

Contact Erica Evans at elevans ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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