Currently, Brown University does not have a space or room for mentally ill and disabled students to meet in, hangout in, or feel safe within.
This Student Wellness Center would allow students access to peers who are
willing to sit down to listen to, validate, and help with issues of mental health.
Ideally, the center could be open for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This
center is not meant to act as professional therapy, nor as intense counseling. It would
operate with the intent of supplementing and synthesizing the resources already existent
on Brown’s campus.
Some figures suggest that 80% of college students feel overwhelmed, 45% deal with
above-average stress, and 40% have feelings of hopelessness. There is also the concerning
statistic that states that although 73% of students living with a mental health condition
have experienced a mental health crisis on campus, only 34.2% reported any mental crisis
to their campus administration. Thus, it is clear that the issues facing Brown and its
handling of mental illnesses are issues afflicting universities across the nation.
Many other colleges have established wellness programs that operate in rooms in
their fitness center, campus life center or health services building. Examples include Room
13 at Harvard, the Wellness Corner at Maryland Institute College of Art, and The Wellness
Center at Bowdoin College. These wellness centers, among others, provide educational
workshops, support groups, video screenings, informational pamphlets, and wellness
activities. A Brown wellness center could be an important safe space that would provide
much-needed information and activities for promoting mental health; it would also help to
better funnel students in need of professional help to CAPS.
The Student Wellness Center (SWC), as we currently envision it, would be a
coalition of existing student groups on campus-- all dedicated to providing important
activities for the maintenance and improvement of Brown students’ mental health and
wellness. While counseling at CAPS is a crucial resource for students, talk therapy is just one
of many types of therapies and activities that function to help individuals cope and improve
mental wellness. We have already communicated with multiple student groups on campus
who have expressed interest in working with the SWC; these include the Brown Meditation
Community, the Brown Yoga and Mindfulness (YAM) Student Group, Radical Artists for art
therapy, WORD! (a spoken word poetry group), and the Brown University Relaxation Project
(BURP). Other possible programs involve music therapy, full-spectrum light therapy, poetry
workshops, dance therapy, and more.
We envision the SWC to be a place for students to go in between CAPS
appointments, and we imagine its development as an important complement to CAPS. It is
extremely stressful for a student who is managing emotional issues alone-- dealing with
hours of work in front of them, an anticipated all-nighter, and preexisting anxious
tendencies-- to contemplate scheduling an appointment that is, on average, two and a half
weeks away (if they don’t report urgency). The reality of the situation is that students
often need immediate, if not critical help. Even students who are in “urgent” or “crisis”
situations may not be able to vocalize this urgency, or even admit it to themselves,
thereby rendering themselves unable to receive proper or timely treatment under the
For example, a student contemplating self-harm may come into the wellness
center for immediate peer advice. Although such a student could, hypothetically, receive
crisis help from CAPS, this task may intimidate the student in question. It is imperative to
realize many students will not reach out to CAPS because of fear of punishment, and that
many students would simply rather speak to a peer.
At the SWC, we could recommend that the hypothetical student utilize coping
strategies to overcome the urge to self-harm. We could recommend that this student make
a “suggestions jar,” in which the student counters impulsive feelings of self-harm with
positive coping activities. For example, if a student’s urge to self-harm is driven by a
desire to see blood, they can pick a suggestion from their suggestions jar labeled, “Want
to see blood,” and turn it over to see the suggestion, “Paint with red paint.” This student,
in the SWC, could occupy themselves with a constructive expression of their feelings of
pain, such as artistic expression of real and valid feelings of frustration.
If we find that a student continues to self-harm, we would then take the necessary
steps to encourage longer-term, more professional treatment. However, it should be noted
that these students would otherwise not have been helped without the SWC-- that this
wellness center provides support for a larger community of students who would not
otherwise receive help from CAPS. No matter how destigmatized CAPS is on Brown’s
campus, certain students simply feel more comfortable with exploring their emotions with a
peer instead of an administrator.
Important to the mission of the wellness center would be the emphasis that the
students who run it are not licensed practitioners and would rather act as facilitators of
alternative healthful activities for students dealing with lower levels of stress, anxiety,
depression, and emotional issues. They would be trained as peer mentors/counselors.
The wellness center would be student-run, providing an important safe space for
student-to-student support. The existence of a physical space on campus would be crucial in
providing “prescribed” activities for students and would serve to legitimize and destigmatize
mental health on campus. The majority of campus is perceived to be an unsafe space for
discussion of mental health, so the wellness center could have a similar function as the
LGBTQ center, in that it would provide a fully safe physical space for students to find
support for issues of mental health.
The wellness center could also have support groups and workshops for topics such as
stress, specific mental health problems (like anxiety or depression), and sexual assault.
Groups like Meiklejohns, RPLs, the Queer Alliance, and the Sexual Assault Task Force could
lead discussions and workshops on various issues relevant to academic, residential, and
general student life issues.
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