Date January 8, 2019
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Summit explores ways to best meet mental health needs of Rhode Island college students

Brown President Christina Paxson emphasized the need for collaboration in a conversation with fellow Rhode Island college and university presidents about approaches to meeting students’ mental health needs.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Speaking at a Jan. 8 summit on postsecondary mental health convened by Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, Brown University President Christina Paxson said that first-rate mental health support for undergraduates is crucial not just because it aids them during college, but because it positions them for successful lives and careers as well. 

“The thing that is most highly correlated with good health — mental and physical — throughout life is having a college degree,” Paxson said. “And so getting students out of high school, into college and through college — this is something that’s going to pay off in tremendous ways throughout their lives.”

Paxson joined Rhode Island College President Frank Sánchez and Roger Williams University Interim President Andrew Workman for a panel discussion that explored best practices in successfully meeting the mental health needs of today’s college students.

The conversation was part of the governor’s Summit on Serving the Health Needs of Postsecondary Students in Rhode Island, which brought together more than 150 leaders from state government, public and private institutions of higher education, and national and local organizations focused on mental health. The daylong event — held at South Street Landing, home to Brown offices and the Rhode Island Nursing Education Center — aimed to build a coalition of partners to help optimize coordination of mental health services across the state’s colleges and universities.

The three presidents noted a markedly increased demand in recent years for mental health services by college students and detailed the ways in which their respective institutions are working to meet this need.

With more than 22 percent of Brown students accessing the University’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), Paxson noted that Brown has bolstered its mental health support system in myriad ways. The University has strengthened connections between CAPS and University Health Services, decreased counseling appointment wait times from two weeks to less than four days, hired a diverse range of clinicians who better reflect the many student identities on campus, and collaborated with students on peer-supported models of care.

Paxson said that collaboration both across universities and within specific campuses is key to meeting the mental health needs of today’s students and that universities would do well by looking to the health care sector for examples of innovation and best practices.

“We have to be innovative,” Paxson said. “If we look around the health care space nationally, we’ll see a lot of innovation in how health care is delivered… We have to make sure that we stay up to pace.”

In addition to Paxson’s participation at the summit, Dr. Vanessa Britto — assistant vice president for campus life and executive director of health and wellness — facilitated a discussion between Rhode Island college students working on campus mental health issues, which included Brown senior Matthew Flathers, co-coordinator of Project LETS, a peer mental health support network and advocacy group at Brown. Another panel brought together university counseling center directors, including Brown’s Will Meek, who discussed ways to connect students to care.

Other discussions during the summit addressed local and national resources for campus mental health care. Patrick Kennedy, former U.S. representative from Rhode Island and founder of the Kennedy Forum, capped off the event with closing remarks.