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As number of mental health resources increases, students point to complexities of issue

New initiatives announced in email from Vice Provost of Student Affairs

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A slew of mental health initiatives — including the addition of four more Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) clinicians and two more disability advisors at the Office of Accessible Education (OAE), as well as a faculty training to support student well-being — were announced in a Tuesday email to students from Vice Provost of Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole.

Brubaker-Cole cited “insight and first-person experiences shared at town halls, in meetings with [her] and other campus leaders and staff members, and at protests like one held a short time ago on White Plaza” as factors in the “comprehensive plan” partly outlined in the email.

But students have signaled that the incoming changes alone are not enough to address underlying challenges to mental health and wellness on campus.

Additional CAPS clinicians

CAPS will receive four new clinicians in fall 2019 “to improve student access and reduce wait times,” Brubaker-Cole wrote, adding that the counseling center will change its “in-take process to prioritize timely in-person consultation with a CAPS clinician.”

Graduate Student Council (GSC) Co-Chair Amy Tarangelo told The Daily she is “very pleased” with the plans outlined in Brubaker-Cole’s email. Tarangelo highlighted the boost to CAPS, where she said “there’s been some resistance to hiring additional staff.”

CAPS will also increase the scope of its workshop series and grow the CAPS Connects program, responsible for placing therapists in community centers and other accessible locations on campus.

More CAPS therapists, however, will not necessarily increase the number of students seen proportionally, wrote Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) Mental Health and Wellness Co-Director Trenton Chang ’21 in an email to The Daily.

“Whether or not resources are ‘enough’ is a very difficult question to answer that is not merely a function of the number of therapists,” Chang wrote. “Wait times are one of the top complaints I’ve heard about CAPS, and additional changes mentioned in [Brubaker-Cole’s] announcement such as revamping the intake system synergize with this end.”

Chang added that he encourages everyone in “the campus community to think about mental health holistically.” One area where CAPS could be improved is in the diversity of its staff, Tarangelo said, noting students have expressed concern that CAPS counselors are of a somewhat “homogenous” background.

“There are a lot of student from underrepresented backgrounds who may be better served by a provider that understands their experiences and how those intersect with mental health problems,” she added.

Faculty training

Among the projects being launched by Student Affairs and the Vaden Health Center “to provide faculty and staff with tools for assisting students” and supporting their well-being are a May workshop in collaboration with the offices of the Provost and the Vice Provost for Faculty Diversity and Development. A summer “in-person training for more than 350 professional and student staff who engage with and support distressed students,” was also listed.

“I like what they are proposing as a pilot program here,” Tarangelo said, “but what we really need, ultimately, is mandatory university-wide faculty training for every advisor.”

She noted that such a program could take time to implement due to development and testing of the curriculum.

Stem cell biology Ph.D. student Francis Aguisanda, a mental health activist who recently shared with The Daily his concerns about the relationship of faculty and students regarding mental health, wrote in an email that he is “very encouraged by the steps” Stanford is taking to improve mental health, including the plan outlined in Brubaker-Cole’s email.

“I cannot stress enough how important faculty support will be in changing the culture surrounding mental health,” Aguisanda wrote. “I hope that, in addition to faculty leaders, ALL faculty who mentor any students will be required to undergo extensive mental health training.”

He added that he would like to see “mental health action plans designed and implemented by department leadership for their faculty and students.”

“Leadership training is great,” Aguisanda wrote, “but the people who need it most are the people who interact with students in their daily lives.”

Looking ahead to the next school year, Stanford plans to “launch an online support module for faculty with strategies for creating learning and work environments conducive to students’ well-being” in fall 2019.

The graduate student’s perspective

Also next fall, the University “will initiate a pilot program of mid-level, non-clinical support on matters such as relationships, family, and stress.” The services will be implemented across “various locations including community centers and advising offices.”

Tarangelo noted that relationships and family are areas “where a lot of graduate students have sources of stress,” but she said that, while she is tentatively supportive of the plan, she “doesn’t know what shape [the mid-level care] will take.” She said more information from Stanford would be helpful on this front.

In her email, Brubaker-Cole highlighted an increase in staff at not just the OAE and CAPS, but also at the Dean of Students office and Graduate Life Office (GLO). The University plans to add four new Residence Deans (RDs) in fall, bringing the total from six to 10. GLO is set to receive two new deans, as completion of the Escondido Village Graduate Residences in 2020 is expected to increase the total number of graduate students living on campus from 4,900 to 7,300.

“GLO is a great resource for graduate students,” Tarangelo said. “I think we have to really acknowledge their support.”

“This plan combines what I have been learning from all of you during my first 18 months in office,” Brubaker-Cole wrote, “along with consultation and research with student and professional staff members, Stanford faculty experts, peer campuses and the leading national organizations in the field.”

Ultimately, Tarangelo said she would like “like to see another task force at the same level” as the ongoing Affordability Task Force — but with regard to graduate students’ mental health — in the 2019-20 school year.

“While we do wanna show support for our undergraduate population in solidarity with the struggles that undergraduates face, [graduate students] also have very distinct issues from the undergrad population,” she said.

“Institutional change is a long process,” Chang wrote. “This is a good start, but it is, after all, just the beginning.”

Contact Holden Foreman at hs4man21 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Holden Foreman '21 is The Daily's Executive Editor. He hails from the city of St. Louis, Missouri and is studying electrical engineering, computer science and economics. Contact him at hs4man21 'at' stanford.edu.