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Stanford fosters discourse on mental health in 2-day conference

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Students, post-doctoral fellows, faculty and staff discussed ways to spread awareness about mental health, dispel stigma and enable the Stanford community to “support others, and ultimately, thrive” at a conference on mental health and well-being on Monday and Tuesday. 

“By focusing on mental health and well-being as a community, we can support one another, learn from one another and acquire tools to help us manage our day-to-day challenges,” said Angie Chan-Geiger, a policy analyst for Student Academic Services and a member of the conference’s steering committee. 

The conference, sponsored by the Office of the Provost, was comprised of more than 20 sessions spread across Paul Brest Hall and Stanford’s Redwood City campus, ranging from discussions about the effects of smartphones on mental health and relationships to workshops on caretaking practices. Between sessions, attendees debriefed the sessions in informal discussions. 

The conference’s steering committee, which consisted of representatives from the Office of the Provost, the Stanford Mental Health Coalition and Office for Religious Life, told The Daily they hosted the event to help Stanford community members develop skills to sustain their own mental wellness and support others. 

“Mental health is a growing concern on our campus and on college campuses across the nation,” Geiger-Chan wrote in a statement to The Daily on behalf of the Committee. “Whether we struggle with mental illness ourselves or know someone who does, the issue affects us all. We wanted to design an event that would be relevant and meaningful to our entire campus community — students, postdocs, staff and faculty.” 

Mental health issues — and the activism surrounding them — are a perennial theme on campus. In 2018, students filed a lawsuit against the University over its leave of absence policies. Last year, two graduate students in the School of Engineering died by suicide, and in June, the University announced that it would increase the services offered at Stanford’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). 

This week, Stanford community members cited various reasons for attending the conversations.

“I came today because I think it’s helpful for staff and faculty at Stanford to be cognizant of these issues and aware so we can support the students,” said Nick Friedman, a senior hazardous waste technician for Stanford Environmental Health and Safety. 

Crystal Chung, a visiting scholar and psychology student from China, said she hoped to learn about the role of mental health in American culture.

 “I want to start here in workshops like this so I can better understand and accept neurodiversity — that’s really important to me,” she said. 

Multiple workshops focused on engaging attendees in reflecting on their own experiences and applying coping skills to their everyday lives. 

In a session entitled “The Challenges of Caring for Frail Loved Ones,” facilitator Paula Wolfson encouraged participants to think about how being a caretaker had shaped their perspectives. 

“Is longevity in life a blessing or a curse?” she asked, allowing the audience to consider their experiences with loved ones. 

Another session centered around grieving at Stanford, a particularly timely issue: Last month, hundreds gathered in Memorial Church to mourn the death of a Stanford sophomore.

Helen Hsu, a psychologist at Vaden Health Center, served as one of the four leaders of the discussion. She and the other facilitators hoped to offer students a glimpse of what goes on “behind the scenes” when students seek grief support, she told The Daily.

“The panel was intended to contribute to fostering a community that is able to acknowledge, share, learn and heal together in grief,” Hsu said.

Organizers emphasized community building as a goal of the sessions and overall conference. 

“In all of these conversations we believe that participation itself has a multiplier effect: By entering into these efforts together, and hearing about the experiences of other members of the campus community, we are, in fact, doing the work of building and strengthening our communities while acknowledging the important work that so many members of our community are already engaged with in supporting positive mental health, resilience and wellbeing at Stanford,” program manager Kyle McKinley told The Daily on behalf of Laura Roberts, a member of the steering committee. 

Some student attendees said they were grateful Stanford was addressing the topic. 

“I’m glad that we are actually talking about the issue and trying to learn,” said fifth-year Ph.D. student Gus Braun, who particularly appreciated the workshop on smartphones and addiction. 

For other students, however, the event is just the beginning of the progress they hope to see on campus in regards to reducing stigma and having access to mental health services. 

“I think that this is the right way to approach it, but the community has a long way to go before fully understanding and appropriately treating mental health on campus,” said Stephy Jackson ’23. 

Contact Sarina Deb at sdeb7 ‘at’ and Nourya Cohen at nacohen ‘at’

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Sarina Deb '23 is a Desk Editor for News. She grew up in the Bay Area and is majoring in political science. Contact her at sdeb7 'at'