Report Friday, March 31st, 2017
BMCSpeaks 2017: Mental Health at Bryn Mawr College
A Deliberative Forum
In late March, 18 Bryn Mawr students convened for two hours to discuss mental health on campus. In the first hour of the forum, students read over sixty anonymous personal testimonies written by other Bryn Mawr students. They then had an opportunity to have a conversation with an administrator about their reactions to the testimonies and their own perceptions of mental health on campus. In the second hour of the forum, the students were split into four groups in which they deliberated over central themes and concerns that they recognized from the first hour. They also deliberated over concrete recommendations for improvement upon those central themes and concerns.
Below is a summary of what the forum participants decided are important concerns regarding mental health on campus and their recommendations for change and improvement:
Central Themes and Recommendations
1 Theme: The administration and students are not on the same page about mental health.
· “Both the administration, and us as students, need to find a middle ground in all aspects (be it traditions, medical leave, course loads, etc.)”
· “The Deans’ Office should change how they talk about leaving and graduating early.”
· “[The] need for change is acknowledged but not much change is happening from the administration.”
· “There is a lot to be improved – and students have ideas on how to improve them but nothing ever happens with them.”
– Have voluntary forums for discussion.
– The Deans’ Office should come out with a report of the actions they have done with evolving the Health Center so we the students can know the progress they have made.
– Administrators could communicate with other schools about Health Center habits that are working for their students.
– What about access to the Bi-Co support system (combine resources with Haverford)? Are they having similar problems that we are?
2 Theme: Medical leave involves added challenges to students.
· “Leaving affects one’s sense of self.”
· “There is lots of conversation about medical leave being encouraged.”
· “[There needs to be] less power to the Health Center being the end all be all for medical leave. There needs to be more options available for students. If a student does go on medical leave, the college needs to work with them to then get back on campus in the future.”
3 Theme: Seeking care is expensive and not always affordable.
· “[There is] the financial component of counselling.”
· “[A person’s] financial situation plays a large role in mental health.”
· “The Health Center should be more transparent about costs and fees.”
– Transparency about Health Center/Counseling Center costs and fees.
4 Theme: Many students often feel at a crossroads with the Health Center and the Counseling Center.
· “It is imperative of knowing who you are going to talk to in a counseling appointment (i.e. an intern or a counselor).”
· “[Ensure] that counselors stay over the years (and not change constantly).”
· “Need better counseling in order to know how to handle issues after college.”
· “The counseling center needs to focus more on the cause than the symptoms.”
· “Hire better people. And more psychiatrists than counselors.”
· “The medical side of the Health Center should communicate more with the mental health side, and be better educated about mental health.”
· “Need for more counselors in the Health Center.”
· “Different issues for international and domestic students – it would be helpful to have counselors who are specific to international issues.”
– To hire more diverse/heterogeneous counselors (i.e. P.O.C., LGBTQI+, International, etc)
– Make the basement physically accessible.
– “Suggestion Box”: Health Center evaluations
– Hire more psychiatrists than counselors.
– Hire “more competent” counselors and psychiatrists.
– Hire more people of color.
– Establish an evaluation and oversight system for health and mental health professionals on campus.
– Start a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) group on campus.
– Re-do the physical space of the Health Center.
– Hire more MDS rather than PHDs.
– We should be able to make appointments online.
– No walk-ins, unless it is a “crisis.”
– Health Center should play a role in destigmatizing mental health.
– Once a week, the Health Center should send an email of all the resources that they provide and information about it (i.e. the costs and availability of psychiatrists).
– Use the DLT as a liaison between the Health Center and students.
– At the end of the academic year, send out statistics about how many students used counselors, psychiatrists, and whether they were happy or unhappy with their experience.
5 Theme: “Mental health is multi-faceted: it goes beyond just the Health Center, Deans’ Office, and Counseling Center.”
· “Learning how to address/confront people with differing opinions related to mental health.”
· “[We need] more emphasis on coping outside and inside the class: strategic coping.”
· “[We need] more tangible examples of self-care on campus (not just milk and cookies).”
· “[We need] more support for people of color and LGBTQ+ people.”
· “How to cope with isolation and loneliness.”
· “The normalization of ‘Everyone at BMC has depression/anxiety.’”
· “The lack of student spaces was striking – BOTH study and non-study.”
· “Is rampant mental health issues just about BMC? Everywhere? – It’s everywhere!”
· “Surprising to hear about people’s experiences with the self-care campaign. How do people classify self-care? As just everyday things? Like bathing???”
– Have outdoor and indoor social spaces for students (i.e. Have benches outside, rooms for clubs/ that aren’t about doing homework, etc.)
– Encourage extracurricular activities like club sports (more variety club sports)
– Peers are easier to approach than counselors – expanding and training the DLT so that leaders of the hall can help students struggling with mental health.
– More sponsored access to Philadelphia.
6 Theme: The severity of mental health issues on campus is not agreed upon or handled well across departments on campus.
· “Where are the checks and balances on departments – to check on each other and see which departments are doing good/bad?”
· “If one department is not up to standards, should another department help out?”
· “How can we measure the standard of a department? We could send out student body surveys on departments like the Health Center and Pensby… people will respond to them because they know it will result in change.”
· “Surprising that professors weren’t helpful.”
– Creating a forum where professors talk about a wide range of issues that students face.
Frequently Asked Questions about BMCSpeaks 2017
What is a deliberative forum?
A deliberative forum is an event in which community members come together to deliberate over a challenging issue. Forum participants first listen to a series of speakers (personal testimonies, expert testimonies, etc.). They then split up into small groups to discuss the central themes of the informational segment and thus devise recommendations for change and improvement of that issue. The results of the forum are then published and administered to all members of the community. In many cases, forums will end in a vote to implement a specific policy change.
How were students selected?
Originally, students were selected randomly from a master list at the Residential Life office. However, not enough of the invited students agreed to attend and so I then opened the forum up to the public via a mass email advertisement. The first 15 people to respond to the advertisement were selected to attend.
Why did only one faculty member attend?
I would like to thank this faculty member for taking the time to attend the forum. I did invite a number of other staff members and administrators, but many of them either declined to attend or simply did not respond to the invitation.
What happens after the forum?
In a sense, it is up to you! This packet is full of relevant and thought-out recommendations for changes that could improve the way students experience mental health on campus. If you agree with some of these recommendations, you can spread the word by talking to professors, friends, administrators. You could post about it on social media. You could write a resolution for the next plenary. You could host another forum yourself! This packet is simply information for the community to do with it what they will.