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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Editorial: Mailman must deliver

Published: February 29, 2008
Section: Opinions

Both Associate Dean of Student Life Maggie Balch and Director of Student Life Rick Sawyer stressed the importance of community in coping with mental health issues this week. In an effort to reach out to Brandeis students from Illinois who may have been affected by the Valentine’s Day shooting at Northern Illinois University, Balch sent out an e-mail expressing sympathy and notifying them of the counseling resources available on campus.

In light of a student’s concern that, in terms of suicide prevention, students at Brandeis do not feel cared about, it is encouraging to see that the administration and the Mailman Counseling Center are taking a community-based approach to mental health and Balch should be commended for her actions. Currently, the counseling center keeps in close communication with various administrative offices that help in identifying community members’ mental health concerns and individuals who may benefit from counseling.

However this community-based approach could be more proactive in spreading awareness about suicide prevention, rather than focusing on specific at-risk students. As Sarah Bernes ‘10 proposed, one possible step would be to hire a suicide prevention specialist, someone who could develop programs and campaigns aimed at the general campus. While Mailman employs a host of mental health professionals who have been trained in suicide prevention, a specialist would have the time to focus on developing dorms raps and other outreach efforts that let students know that they are cared about. Even small-scale measures, like a dorm rap, provide a student who feels uneasy with seeking out individual counseling with a way to learn more about this issue and in that way increases his or her comfort level. Considering that 90 percent of patients at Mailman are self-referred, it is possible that general campus outreach efforts may encourage even more community members to seek counseling.

While some may argue that the recent suicide of a Brandeis student does not justify the cost of bringing in a suicide prevention specialist, this is not a simple numbers issue. This is not a matter of looking at campus suicide statistics and being satisfied with low rates. Whatever can be done to improve the mental health resources available on campus, should be done or at least given proper consideration. However Mailman Senior Director Dr. Robert Berlin seems to have already defined the limitations of what the counseling center can do and has recently dismissed the idea of a suicide prevention specialist or the Surgeon General’s “gatekeeper” suicide prevention training – currently a national standard. Even if it only leads to one life-saving innovation, the benefit will far outweigh the cost.