Facing the mental health crisis at Stanford

April 14, 2015, 9:29 p.m.

Our bubble has been broken. This year, we found out that Stanford isn’t perfect. Being university students, we aren’t unfamiliar with stress, nor is mental health a new issue. But our entire community has been through the fire this year in a way that our university wasn’t prepared to support. That has to change.

Everyone has been talking about 2014­-15 as a year of activism. This is the year Stanford students took to the streets, calling for enforcement of Title IX in sexual assault proceedings, demanding a recognition that #BlackLivesMatter and campaigning for the removal of Stanford’s investments from companies that harm the planet and the people who inhabit it. But it’s also been a year of tremendous pain, stemming from the exhaustion of the endless fight to make our voices heard, compounded with the daily frustration of the Stanford experience.

The easy response is to label this year “divisive” and call for a return to “unity” in the form of blissful silence. But speaking out on the issues that matter shouldn’t be the problem. ­After all, the educational mission of Stanford University is to prepare students for “direct usefulness in life.” The problem is that our university does not adequately support the mental and emotional well-­being of its students, neither as individuals nor as a collective. This lack of support makes the idea of direct usefulness little more than a fantasy.

Since October 2014 and the ensuing work by campus publications, our community has been aware of the failings of Stanford’s mental health system.  Many individuals were intimately familiar before that. CAPS was, and largely remains, underfunded, understaffed and overwhelmed. However, it’s clear to us that money and staff are not the only issue, and it feels more like Stanford just doesn’t know how to take care of its students.

We are a decentralized university, with 18,000 students spread across 8,000 acres of land. Expecting one health center to act as a safety net for every student is not only unreasonable, it is insulting to the many who have been led to believe that Stanford actually cares about our well­-being. Our mental health resources need to meet students where they already are, and we have got to stop pretending that CAPS is enough. That is why we’re supportive of the joint effort between VPSA and the ASSU to create the Residential Counselors Program.

RCP is a pilot program, having just sought out its student coordinators, and will need a lot of work to be fully integrated into our campus over the next year. But it’s exactly what Stanford needs. Residential­-based support is absolutely crucial to alleviating the mental health crisis, and we need students, administrators, faculty and alumni to all commit to its success. We cannot allow mental health to be used as a political buzzword in this campaign, only to be forgotten after April 17. We need to put in the hours to bring campus and community leaders together to support and expand the Residential Counselors Program and identify other areas of improvement for our safety net.

Stanford needs to know that the mental health of the student body is in crisis, and this crisis needs to be addressed. To help out, the ASSU can implement phases two and three of the RCP (expanded pilot and full implementation), develop an event­ based stress relief campaign and bring student experiences to light through peer learning forums. The ASSU is a limited body, but it isn’t a powerless one. Let’s use the resources we do have to tirelessly advocate for these issues and actually get something done.

John-Lancaster Finley ‘16

Brandon Hill ‘16

ASSU Executive Candidates

Contact John-Lancaster Finley at jfinley5 ‘at’ stanford.edu and Brandon Hill at bhill1 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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