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Parents, students call for more accessible mental health resources on campus

Nationwide, colleges and universities are faced with a mental health crisis.

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Boston University’s Student Health Services. Boston University community members voiced concerns about the school needing to do more to address the mental health crisis on campus — and sweeping the nation — saying mental health services must be more accessible. COLIN BOYD/DFP STAFF

The Healthy Minds Network — a research organization that studies mental health in adolescents and young adults — found in a 2021 survey that 40% of participating college students had been diagnosed with mental health problems. 13% have had suicidal thoughts.  

This “crisis” is not unique to college campuses, noted Sarah Lipson, an assistant professor at Boston University School of Public Health and co-principal investigator at The Healthy Minds Network. However, she said, students are generally afforded unique on-campus resources to deal with a broader phenomenon which is primarily affecting those in their age group.

“More students are struggling with mental health problems than are actually going and trying to access services at their counseling centers,” Lipson said. “There are a lot of inequalities in terms of what students are accessing.”

BU has seen a “steady increase in demand” for its mental health services over the past decade, one that the Behavioral Medicine department of Student Health Services has been seeking to meet, its director, Carrie Landa, wrote in an email.

“The pandemic, as well as the political climate in the US over the past several years have definitely added to that demand,” Landa wrote. “Increased isolation and loneliness are definitely a common concern when students come in.”

Landa wrote Behavioral Medicine has been hiring more staff in recent years — in 2015, its staff numbered 20 and, today, 25. For the upcoming fall semester, the department received provost approval to hire four additional therapists, two prescribers and one referral coordinator — putting the projected staff size to 32, Landa added.

However, many in the BU community said the University could offer more accessible mental health resources to its student body — among these, students, parents, student-run organizations and representatives in Student Government.

“I think the biggest question we face is, ‘I don’t know where to go,’ or, ‘I don’t know what resources are offered,’ said Savannah Majarwitz, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences and this year’s Mental Health Committee chair within Student Government.

Currently, Behavioral Medicine offers diagnosis, therapy, psychiatry, phone consultations and a 24/7 hotline for mental health emergencies, as detailed on its website.

Students who make appointments through Behavioral Medicine — like Sage Winkler, a sophomore in the College of General Studies, and CAS junior Zoe Shiman — said they’ve often been referred to off-campus counseling after one or more meetings. 

Winkler said it took her two weeks to get a consultation through SHS and at her appointment she was immediately referred to off-campus counseling.

“​​They sent me some recommendations of therapists, but they never reached out to make sure that I was doing well,” Winkler said.

All universities use a “brief-treatment model,” Landa wrote, adding that students who need longer-term treatment are generally referred out while those that can be treated briefly are kept in house.

“In order to serve 33,000 students, we always need to keep openings for students who need assessment and brief treatment,” Landa wrote. “Others who are referred out are often needing longer-term treatment or treatment that is beyond the scope of service for a college counseling center.”

Landa added SHS collects satisfaction data from students through a feedback process where students can provide anonymous feedback to administrators. Landa wrote that the SHS’ current student satisfaction rate is above 85%.

Majarwitz said she thinks The Wellbeing Project — created by Behavioral Medicine in September 2019 to support students’ health and wellness — should not be the only major mental health resource at BU. 

“I think students would love to see more from Behavioral Medicine and more from BU in terms of the services that could be offered,” said Majarwitz.

Alessandra Kellermann, a mother of a BU alum who runs the BU Parents United Facebook group, said she believes the topic of suicide is considered taboo in discussions surrounding mental health, especially on campus.

Last month, a BU student died by suicide. Kellermann said she was contacted by parents and faculty members following the suicide, adding many “are feeling like it has gotten to a point where there are no more excuses.”

Kellermann said she thinks moving forward, BU should follow guidelines from the JED Foundation — a nonprofit organization that aims to prevent suicide in teens and young adults — on how to handle mental health crises and tragedies at academic institutions.

JED’s “Postvention Plan” focuses on “campus-wide communication and coordination aimed at maintaining community stability and assuring effective outreach during a crisis,” as described on its website.

Landa said in addition to the support provided by SHS, mental health is a “campus wide responsibility.” 

“Some changes are much easier than others but we have really made significant changes over the past decade,” Landa said. “I think continuing to decrease barriers to getting care, decreasing stigma, and having students recognize that there are multiple places to turn are all ways in which we can continue to improve.”

Lipson said campus counseling services can not be expected to be able to meet the increased demand for counseling and prevalence of poor mental health symptoms in adolescents and young adults and urged the University to embrace a model of “shared responsibility” across campus.

“We are really, really taking a dangerous approach to put all of that responsibility on counseling centers because the demand is going to continue to increase,” Lipson said.

CAS sophomore Stacey Turabelidze, an e-board member of Let’s Talk About It — a student group that focuses on mental health support— said she thinks the administration could do more in providing mental health resources on campus.

“This shouldn’t all fall into our hands and it shouldn’t all be our responsibility,” Turabelidze said.

If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call The National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text SHARE to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.






22 Comments

  1. Disappointing spin from Dr.Landa who has had years to do her job better and is being replaced as mental health director as of 5 months ago. Dr.Judy Platt – Director of Health Services has had to carry her load for years esp during the pandemic . Dr.Lipson is a shining star at BUSPH and her research and guidance should be listened to and attended by BU admin who just don’t seem to understand the urgency of providing better mental health services and supports. A few positions approved for fall? That’s it? So much more needs to be done and the 85% satisfaction rate from terriers that Landa quotes is simple spin and pardon my French – BS. The last time a survey was sent out many terriers were told they could not fill it out because they weren’t on this “ list “ Yet it was dispersed campus wide. I have personally spoken to terriers, helped crisis intervention and even sadly after suicides and suicide attempts at BU – 85% is a magic number BU wants to share but not one sane terrier, alumnus or faculty member believes.
    It’s time for major changes before we lost another terrier to suicide or just leaving this wonderful university because everyone preferred to spin. The emperor has no clothes. It’s time for students – for the intelligent thoughtful terriers recruited worldwide to hold BU accountable.

  2. Maybe parents need to stop blaming everyone else and look in the mirror. You send your kids off to these large universities and wash your hands of all responsibility for their mental health. Please…I call BS on the parents not preparing their children for what they are going to encounter in this world. How bout holding parents accountable? The “spin” is that you expect all your problems solved by someone else. You chose to pay this tuition, you chose to shuttle your young 18 yr old kid off to the big city. Take the sunglasses off and pay attention before your kid gets into problems.

    • Since I mentioned the spin – maybe you should consider that many of us care about these issues whether our own kids have mental health challenges or not . I am a counselor and we have a mental health crisis in this country. Have the guts to use your name at least. BU knows we have a mental health crisis in this country and has known since the pandemic and before. I didn’t “ send “ my kid to to big city and university – he made his own decision and did fine. Your assumptions and ugly comments about parents only reflect on you – not any understanding of the mental health challenges our students have and how BU could shine if they wanted to. Also not all of us paid for tuition but at almost $80,000 a year ( in loans for many like my son who graduated with honors) , our terriers should be able to expect the same kind of urgency and investment to in student wellbeing as BU shows for their hockey team. They wouldn’t wait 5 months to find a new head coach. They wouldn’t shrug their shoulders if it was a hockey player who took their life or needed better support. 85% satisfaction rate? Really? You can’t find that anywhere and some of us who are alumni too – are tired of the excuses and the spin. Sometimes it’s better not to post if you can’t improve the silence..

    • Friend this comment doesn’t pass the vibe check. It has been a devestating 2 years and maybe grab a mirror yourself and think long and hard about why this was what you chose to say in the wake of a recent death on campus with a family that is greiving. Youre casting stones at parents and I will say I would be horrified if my child (grown or not) behaved in this way towards someone that was hurting. Do better

    • This is probably one of the most insensitive posts I have ever read. Mental illness can happen at different times in life. A child in high school may be fine-and then have a crisis later. Or a child’s depression and anxiety may have have been managed in high school, and then it escalates in college. Sometimes, kids don’t even realize what is wrong with them. Boston University encourages kids to be independent and discourages monitoring, so the onus falls on BU. Your sweeping generalization of this indicates that you have no understanding of mental illness, and are devoid of empathy. I agree with Alessandra-you need to say who you are and own your ignorance.

    • First of, it would be nice if you can at least have the courage to use your real name, so we can say, we are having a good and open discussion here. @GMAB, we are discussing mental health crisis here and I found your comment so insensitive, especially with just what happened to one of our BU student, a little bit of compassion would be nice. The family doesn’t deserved to hear your comments.

      Secondly, being one of the BU parent, I did not choose BU for my kid, but my kid had chosen BU, a private university, with a tag price of $80+ a year. You can align that price to those Ivies schools. Though, BU is not comparable to those elite schools, I know we are equipped and can afford to employ the right person to help our kids about this mental health issue, at least we can expect something better. When we drop off our kids to this university, it’s not only the assurance of getting the best education and good experience is expected, but also a help from the school when our daughters/sons are not feeling good. I live across the country, and if my kid has issue in the future, who else could we expect to get help from? It’s like when they get Covid, we know that school is actively helping our terriers. If Covid is a pandemic, anxiety and depression is an epidemic. According to the report from the news this morning in Todays MSNBC news, 1 out 5 students in the US are experiencing anxiety and depression. Different people with mental health issue, different way of dealing with this problems. Some has help from the parents, others don’t. Please, don’t blame the parents who are united in pushing the school to get active helping their students. Remember, there’s a huge percentage of international students, and their parents are just too far away to help out if there’s a problem. I’m sure, I’m not the only one who are pro-active in communicating with my kid, otherwise, we will not be discussing this.

      Lastly, I would like to thank Alessandra for leading us pushing the school to get involve about help for mental crisis issue. So far, I don’t have issue, but at least, I know that there’s group of parents that I can rely if that happened.

      Please, let’s be sensitive about the issue. A little kindness is not hard to do.

    • What a vile and hurtful comment to make. Your ugly is shining through.

  3. Anonymous Student

    “Landa wrote that the SHS’ current student satisfaction rate is above 85%.” Sure Jan. Bu doesn’t care about it’s students until something happens that makes them look bad.

  4. I don’t see what people exactly expect.

    BU is a university, not a daycare. Do you expect BU to babysit you?

    If you need a break go take a gap semester.

    • Daycare? No one expects daycare. What we expect is appropriate recognition of the mental health challenges that everyone is facing, acknowledging that 18-22 yr olds are not adults, and the provision of an appropriate level of mental health services. When someone reaches out for help, they shouldn’t be put on a waiting list. They shouldn’t be shuttled around. And, they shouldnt be told to suck it up and get over it or that they are misreading their own feelings.They should be provided the help they need/are seeking.

    • You posted this on REDDIT too where many terriers were expressing their own struggles courageously and sharing there . Seems you just want attention. Glad your entitlement allows you to judge and shame others who may need help or just admitting this pandemic has been tough. Comments like yours about your peers reflect your character or lack of . If you think well-being support and stronger mental health resources are “ daycare “ maybe you yourself are not ready for college yet. Open a book – talk to counselors or researchers in mental health – read the latest research by BUSPH and then think about what you just wrote. Or do you get it and just like my instincts tell me , just lack any character and are starving for attention? Trolling and demeaning others for attention seems to indicate you might benefit from some counseling. All of us need to learn the tool to better self care and monitoring our mental health just like we do our physical. You actually just proves my point even further..

    • We expect you to have compassion. I suppose thats asking too much.

  5. I had to make sure my girlfriend was safe when she was having suicidal thoughts because BU just couldn’t see her until the end of the week. They put all the weight on us students and they congratulate themselves for the lives saved. WE save each others’ lives at our own expense–we have so much responsibility on our shoulders.

    • Thank you for sharing and caring enough to make sure she was okay. Please know that while BU is figuring out whether they want to prioritize the wellbeing of their students and invest in adequate mental health supports on campus, you can always call 1-800-273-8255 for anyone you are worried about. There are trained counselors there 24/7 and soon the number will just be 988.
      Your humanity and empathy reflect the character and integrity of most terriers who attend BU. Admin and spokesmen and women have spun it to look like students just “ aren’t reaching out but there is plenty of help. “ Your testimonial is exactly what we have witnessed and heard from countless terriers – plenty ARE reaching out and being turned away because of LACK of resources at BU. Glad your girlfriend is okay. Great job.

  6. Mental health and illness is everyone’s responsibility it effects everyone yet it’s not something the individual experiencing it nor their parents can turn on or off. The brain is just like any other part of the body and should be treated as such. The same people blaming the victims are often the same ones shaming them. We all need to help each other. BU should just as any other university have access to quality mental health care and follow-up not do the minimal and turn a blind eye to the consequences

  7. I found it really hard to read this article. I had to think about this comment for an entire day before I could actually write some thing. It seems as though the author is supporting BU and their lack of care for the students. I was so surprised because I shared a story with her and we corresponded back-and-forth, she seemingly understood. But I read the article and I don’t think she did.

    I don’t think that we, as parents, are asking too much. I believe we are just asking for what other universities provide their students. This isn’t an easy time to be in college. Most of the students experienced depression and anxiety during their Covid isolation. Some have quickly recovered, but others are still stuck. Going to college is difficult enough, the pressure of grades, fitting in, meeting new people, being in a new city, and everything else is hard enough without Covid. Add all the complications that Covid brings and it’s devastating for some. Actually, I would say it’s devastating for most.

    There are very simple things that the university can do. Their screeners who talk to those reach out can be caring and compassionate people. Not cold and prickly. They could follow up with students who they refer out. They could bring in therapy dogs to reduce stress. So many things that are left undone. It’s very sad.

    To the people who wrote comments above who just don’t understand, I feel sad for you. I grew up with a “ pull yourself up by the bootstraps” Mentality, and it worked for me. It doesn’t work for everyone. I’ve come to learn that after 20 years of parenting three children.

    My hope is that it won’t take another suicide for people to realize how big of a problem this is and how widespread it is among our teens and young adults today.

  8. GMAB’s comments are unfortunately ignorant. There is so much to understand about why a human develops mental illness. A person may be born with a predisposition to mental illness as in the case with some one with Aspergers. The university should follow the advice of the experts who have studied what is successful. And every student who is accepted to BU should be allowed the opportunity to pursue their education there. In the end, the more students who succeed mentally and academically , the better for BU’s reputation.

  9. “Landa added SHS collects satisfaction data from students through a feedback process where students can provide anonymous feedback to administrators. Landa wrote that the SHS’ current student satisfaction rate is above 85%.”

    Sounds like this is about students saying they got decent service when they visited SHS, not saying BU’s mental health support is good overall. Very unclear what the bounds on “current” are, which kinds of SHS users responded and why, etc. If the article is going to incude the statistic, it ought to provide context.

    In any case, in the context of recent events, Landa’s statement above is a little like saying, “Actually, MOST of our students DON’T die by suicide!” Now is the time to listen, not to defend.

    • Dissatisfied Student

      Not to mention, it isn’t even remotely accurate… Every time I’ve tried to schedule an appointment with SHS, they hang up on me. I don’t know what the hell Landa is patting her back over, but that isn’t a very “satisfying” experience.

  10. I have to clarify my comments above. I mentioned above that I had shared a story with the author of the article and I thought she understood, but after reading the article, I’m not sure she did. Well, the author reached out to me after reading my comments and clarified something for me. The subject of the article was BU Mental Health Services, NOT how BU has fallen short of providing these services. She explained to me the process of writing the article and how her effort was to present both sides without being biased. I guess I wanted her to be biased. That’s my fault. She also explained how the process of getting an article published works – that sometimes edits are done after she has submitted her writing and that she doesn’t have control of that.

    So – thank you Miss Small for writing this article and bringing attention to mental health services at BU. I know you spent many hours researching this and responding to many emails from parents. I appreciate that this subject is being discussed and I like that we are using the comments area to discuss it even further!

  11. As one who planned my suicide in college but (thankfully) did not follow through…

    Each one of us are unique individuals with many different strengths and weaknesses and it is no ones fault or good fortune how we turn out… individuals make choices…that is a fact…and we have no right to judge anyone for their choices or to pretend to get in their head and speak their truth! You can voice your truth for you… but not for me and my child…you dont know us any more than we know you…

    There are many loving parents in this world who did the best we could to raise confident, independent children… And despite all their efforts and hard work, children grow up to be unique, independent people who make their own choices… some good, some questionable…regardless of our love and their education. College is the first step toward young people learning to “adult” and navigate the real world away from their parent/guardians control. Some are strong enough to do it on their own. Some are strong enough to know when to ask for help. And when help is needed, all deserve to ask and receive that help in order that they may become even more confident, resilient adults.