Hamlett-Reed Mental Health Initiative
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DATE: September 10, 2015
TO: President Amy Gutmann
SUBJECT: Hamlett-Reed Mental Health Initiative
Dear President Gutmann,
In the past two years, seven Penn students have died by suicide. Unfortunately, the University has not taken decisive action to make sure this doesn’t happen to current and future students. We need to prioritize mental wellness.
Mental health on college campuses is an urgent, national crisis. According to the National College Health Assessment, almost a third of college students have felt “so depressed they were unable to function” at some point in the last 12 months and more than half felt “overwhelmed with anxiety.” At Penn, the need is dire: a silent majority of students feel isolated, stressed and depressed. With the “Penn Face,” they mask their loneliness and problems.
Last year, the Mental Health Task Force was formed to address these issues. It came back with Band-Aid solutions that were condemned by students and the loved ones of lives lost because they did not address root issues or make substantial change. In fact, after their implementation, further lives were lost. It’s time for immediate and substantive action.
For the sake of our incoming freshman class we strongly encourage the administration to adopt the following proactive proposals.
Designated Counselor: CAPS is a faceless, nameless, foreign office most students have never visited. It’s difficult for any student, especially one who is struggling, to speak with someone they don’t know about a deeply personal problem. All students when they arrive at Penn should be assigned a designated mental wellness counselor. His/her picture and contact information should be listed on the home page of Penn In Touch, just as College academic advisors are listed. Over the course of the year, CAPS counselors should set up introductory meetings with students. This should be completed by November 1, 2015.
Anonymous Visits: We know that when young people seek out mental and other help from others, they want their visit to be totally confidential. This is especially important for Penn students who may fear that this information would become an official record or become public. As we all know, therapy is still stigmatized for many people. Penn can easily address this issue. Students should be allowed to use anonymous IDs to schedule their visits. In the case of an emergency, counselors should ask students for the personal information. Identification should not be mandatory for initial visits. This should be completed by December 1, 2015.
Online Scheduling: Having to call the CAPS office to schedule a visit or show up in person can be very uncomfortable. Today, students and adults increasingly accept making appointments with professionals using online systems. Therefore, just as students can schedule appointments with writing tutors or GSRs online, a system should be set up to schedule CAPS sessions and initial consultation calls online. This should be completed by January 1, 2016.
Ongoing, Proactive Communication: The CAPS team should proactively reach out to students once a month demonstrating their sensitivity to mental health issues, especially those at Penn and other peer institutions, which everyone is talking and reading about. This can be done through a newsletter and/or visits to the freshmen halls. A student in need of help is more likely to reach out to a person who has reached them first. CAPS should expand its communication with student groups at Penn, focusing especially on athletic teams. This should be done by January 1, 2016.
CAPS Best Practices: The administration should monitor the quality of care for all students with particular focus on those students with unique and distinct stress factors, such as those abusing drugs, members of minority communities, and student-athletes. In light of the most recent losses, these standards should be transparent and developed with outside input. Deliberations on this issue should be open to the public and include student input. Focus should be placed on documenting and investigating current practices with an eye towards which procedures are effective and those that require retooling to prevent any further losses. In that regard, students who request a wellness leave of absence should not be penalized irrespective of the timing of the request. Further, a uniform University policy governing this issue should be established. This should be done by February 2016.
NSO Events: Incoming students should know where the CAPS building is located. During NSO, we talk about sexual consent and public safety. During this time, students should be shown where the CAPS office is located and encouraged to drop by to introduce themselves. The CAPS counselors should speak to the audience about Penn’s philosophy toward mental wellness and put a face on CAPS. A separate presentation should be set up for parents to learn how they can help their children take advantage of the resources available on campus. This should be done by NSO 2016.
We understand that these proposals will require an investment. However, if we save even one life, it will be worth it. In addition, we believe this will make Penn a thought leader and change agent in the movement to make college a safer environment for students.
We request a meeting within the next two weeks with you, as University of Pennsylvania President, to implement these proposals.
Thank you for your consideration of this urgent matter.
Members of the Hamlett-Reed Mental Health Initiative
Katherine Hamlett, Mother of Timothy Hamlett
Linda Douglas, Mother of Theodric Reed
Devanshi Mehta, President, Active Minds
Samantha Stavis, Co-President, CogWell
Michael Shaid, Co-President, CogWell
Mary Sun, President, The MedX Program
Imran Cronk, President, Wharton Undergraduate Healthcare Club
Jesus Perez, President, Class of 2016
Darren Tomasso, President, Class of 2017
Vadim Ordovsky-Tanaevsky, President, Class of 2018
Matt Mantica, President, Daily Pennsylvanian
David Cahn, DSF Chairman, Undergraduate Assembly
Jacob Wallenberg, Chairman, Inter-Fraternity Council
Jordyn Jones, Chairwoman, Panhellenic Council
Megan Yan, Co-Chair, Penn Consortium of Undergraduate Women
Jin Kim, Chair, Asian Pacific Student Coalition
Gina Dukes, Co-Chair, SOUL
Jamal Taylor, Recruitment Chair, SOUL
Alyssa Chang, President, UPenn Transfer Student Association
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