Nov

23

On Wellness, Semantics, Transparency, and Other Buzzwords

Written by

Not well
Not well

Not well

Bwog Editor Alexandra Svokos is tired of hearing the word “wellness.”

This past Sunday, the Student Wellness Project hosted their second Wellness Summit from 1-4 pm in the Diana. I left this summit far more stressed than I had been before I walked in. I was agitated following the discussions, having been pounded with a reminder of the faults in this school and campus. Ultimately, I concluded that it hadn’t been a productive use of my time, and I sincerely wondered how useful it was for SWP.

I’m gonna level with you here: I’ve been wary of SWP since its conception in fall 2011, following the suicide of Tina Bu, CC’13. Perhaps to their credit, much of my distrust has consistently come from semantics and presentation. In December 2011, The Eye published a two-part piece on “How We’re Doing.” The first part was by Wilfred Chan, explaining the need for SWP as well as increased administrative aid for student wellness; the second was by Sarah Ngu, a close friend of Bu. Ngu made it clear that Bu was surrounded by an incredibly supportive group consisting of family, friends, therapists, RAs, and so on. But unfortunately depression is a hard disease to predict and control.

After reading this package, I was confused. The pairing seemed wrong: one arguing we need more support on campus, one delicately explaining that there was substantial support, but tragedies still happen. One arguing the external, that this school is a stressful place with high expectations, one delicately explaining the internal, an experience with a mental disease. Having lost a friend to suicide 18 months earlier, I understood Chan’s shock and motivation to implement a change on your community. Once you go through a tragedy like this, you never ever ever want to experience it again–and never ever ever want anyone else to have to experience it.

However, you just can’t control for that. As the suicide of Martha Corey-Ochoa, CC’16, on the first night of NSOP 2012 proved, sometimes it doesn’t matter if a person is in a kind community with proper resources. There is an inherent difference between mental health–depression, mental disorders–and mental well-being–stress, emotional strength. SWP began as a paradox: a cause for mental well-being in reaction to an issue of mental health.

“Wellness” is a big word. The Student Wellness Project has used it as an umbrella term including under it everything from mental health to community building to stress relief to institutional and educational policy changes. I’m still not entirely sure what their purpose is now, more specifically than “people are stressed let’s fix that.” The summit showed signs of this blobbiness of purpose: it opened with talks from Dr. Richard Eichler, Director of CPS, Dr. Samuel Seward, Associate VP Medical Director, and Bob Sun, CC’14, VP Policy for CCSC. How one group is supposed to tackle a school’s psychological issues, medical problems, and educational policy is beyond me–talk about unrealistic self-expectations. It should also be noted that all three of these speakers left directly after giving their speeches, indicating that they weren’t there to hear from students, they were there to spout all the good stuff they do. Sun reportedly left because he had to study for a midterm, as if he was the only person in the room who had work to do.

In the past two years, SWP has brought us candy, puppies, and a proposition for a first-year P/D/F policy. I was (and still am) against the P/D/F Policy. As I’ve said before, this is an Ivy League university–it’s not supposed to be a breeze. The thing is, this place is stressful. It’s never going to not be stressful. The mere fact of being in New York City is enough to ensure that. A fair amount of stress isn’t always bad; it motivates and pushes you to work harder. But obviously living in a high-stress, no-compassion environment for four years is not good.

It is important that we have these conversations about wellness on campus, and it is important that there is a group trying to improve student life. This is much better than me sitting like a petulant teenager with my arms crossed grumbling that it’s always gonna be hard, so what’s the point? But I’m not sure if SWP is handling it in the proper way. Rather than highlight the positives, SWP bolds the negatives. The agenda for the summit included discussion questions, many of which were clearly leading–“Is taking 23 credits a semester admirable, or is this a recipe for overwhelming stress?” “Why do students take 6 classes as a norm when we are encouraged to take four–what are we trying to prove?” “Has the Columbia administration or faculty created this culture, or is it created and maintained by the students?”

To which my group respectively concluded: if someone wants to take 23 credits and can handle it, they should do that. Students typically don’t take 6 classes as a norm, and who’s to say a student taking 6 classes is out to prove something? Maybe they like taking classes or are in an engineering program which requires that. What exactly is “this culture”? Again, we’re back to semantics, but in a discussion that matters.

To get even more nitpicky–SWP provided 4 statements to agree/disagree with, two of which were “Our biggest community stressor is institutional bureaucracy” and “Our biggest stressors include unrealistic self-expectations.” A person is more liable to strongly agree with a less precise statement like “biggest stressors include” rather than a precise “biggest community stressor is.” It follows that many more people strongly agreed with the self-expectations statement than the institutional bureaucracy one. After discussions, however, much of the conversation floated to bureaucracy, leading some participants to claim that, because of this discrepancy, students put all the blame for stress on bureaucracy rather than accept it as our own fault.

I, for one, would be less stressed if SACBO had sent me the $50 reimbursement that I submitted for 7 months ago or paid the winners of a festival I was on the board of–again, for which the paperwork was turned in 7 months ago. Registration this week would’ve been a lot easier if I knew what creative writing classes were offered before I logged into SSOL. And my life would be a hell of a lot nicer if Dean Martinez openly explained what the plans–if there are any–are for the Dems’ proposed changes in the sexual assault policy.

As tends to happen here, conversation turned to “transparency.” If administrators were open about the decisions behind, say, Barnard overnight guest or commuter access policies, we might be less frustrated. This is where one participant mentioned the sexual assault policy, saying she had no idea what currently was going on with it in the administration, to which a Spec reporter and myself made eye contact and could not help but laugh: we have no idea either. One participating administrator complained that students keep using this blanket term “administration,” but who are we really talking about? Perhaps if we understood how “the administration” works and who takes care of what, we could stop using a term that points to our perception of the school’s leaders: an imposing, impersonal mass.

Another participant suggested that administrators (I hate to keep using the term…) write op-eds for Spec about what they’re doing and why. To this, an administrator said they would, but they’re scared of nasty feedback from commenters (hi guys). Here I’d like to take a moment to applaud everyone who’s ever put their name on a post for Bwog, Spec, the Lion, whatever else–turns out you’re braver than some of the people who run this place. So there it is, there exists a fear of criticism and “19-year-olds writing at 4:30 in the morning.”

But let’s get back to educational student wellness. That’s what we’re supposed to be talking about, right? I spent three hours last weekend reaching the exact conclusions I’d known from the start: Columbia is stressful for a variety of reasons that vary depending on who you’re talking to. A lot of stress is self-motivated and can only be lessened by changing your own expectations. There are probably some ways to improve the overall “wellness” on campus. I still am not certain what those ways are, unless you were to eliminate all classes, clubs, and socialization.

SWP came into this summit looking for people to affirm their preconceived ideas, and they got that. Afterwards, I talked to a leader to see what would come from this. He explained that they are going to continue on doing what they had been doing–creating their Wellness Report and working on what sounds like an awesome and very useful mass FAQ website for students. I left to get a much-needed coffee.

tl;dr I should’ve stayed in on Sunday.

Seriously unwell lady laying in bed and warding off the sunlight via Shutterstock

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49 Comments

  1. no fucking kidding  

    i've read shorter tolstoy novels

  2. Anonymous  

    What was the point of this article other than being contrarian for the sake of being contrarian? The argument is incredibly unclear, unless it's simply that you feel like your time was wasted, which is just conceited and rude. If it's that we're all responsible for our own stress, then that's a pretty individualistic and selfish perception that I think only aids the overall feeling of helplessness. Should we all just wallow in our own misery then? Congrats, you just lambasted a group that had nothing but good intentions because you couldn't see them from your stress free high horse.

  3. Wilfred Chan

    Happy that there's a discussion being had. Obviously I disagree with a lot of what's being said here, but rather than do a point-by-point rebuttal, I think it'd be more useful if I opened this up for conversation - especially since I was mentioned by name here. Just to be clear, I'm not the leader of SWP any more, so I'm not speaking for the organization.

    I don't think wellness means "an absence of stress" and I think we should stop talking so much about "reducing stress" as if that's the only possible solution. I don't even think wellness means "happiness." What I've come to learn, two years after sort of making this term into a thing on this campus, is that wellness ultimately means conscious and active self-acceptance. It means a proactive attitude towards health (both physical and mental), and a mentality of self-empowerment where an individual feels that they can make the personal choices that make sense for them, so that they can achieve a kind of health that makes sense for them.

    In my article you referenced in 2011, I wrote, "Though we can never get rid of stress, we can change the way we think about it." I think I stand by that. Wellness isn't about eliminating stress. What I cautioned against in my article is celebrating misery. There's sometimes this idea that to look like a successful Columbia student, you have to out-suffer the people around you. When that becomes a campus norm, that disempowers people from prioritizing their health.

    But beyond cultural factors, there are also ways that Columbia the institution keeps people from feeling empowered to pursue a personal sense of health. For example, if our food options are limited, or the healthy ones are overpriced, then that's a problem that disempowers certain people. If our campus mental health services have discouraging wait times or forced-leave of absence policies, that disempowers people. If academic policies encourage students to overload themselves at the expense of well-being, that disempowers people. To me, improving campus wellness is about giving people choice and the ability to take personal responsibility for their health. Let me know if that makes sense.

    So a lot of what SWP does is to try and identify places where institutional or cultural factors are perhaps getting in the way of students' ability to pursue health in a way that makes sense for themselves. And then knock down those barriers, or at least start conversations, like this one.

    So anyway, I know this is a complex topic and I can understand why you might be tired of hearing this word, especially when it hasn't been defined completely! I also agree with you that bureaucracy and academics are definitely not the only two things we should be talking about. In fact I hope SWP will open up the conversation more broadly. Like you said, these matters are subjective, and we want to get people talking.

    Anyway, I'm here to talk and discuss this issue further with anyone who's interested. Feel free to reply here with whatever's on your mind about this topic and I'll do my best to answer. You can also email me at wwc2109.

    Thanks for caring about this.

  4. fact  

    Martinez doesn't have any control over releasing sexual assault data... not even close. That's University level-- Bollinger and the presidential committee on sexual assault.

  5. Alexander Pines

    Posting as myself, not as a member of Bwog's staff (I'm also on my phone, so forgive any typos or autocorrect gaffs).

    I think key to Svokos' post is the difference between "mental health" and "mental well-being"--issues of mental health are endemic to not only Columbia students but people in general (obviously). As Svokos pointed out, mental health will likely be an issue no matter what environment a person is in. Mental well-being, on the other hand, is a product of our environments--I don't know a single Columbia student who hasn't participated in or at least listened to an epic bout of Stress Olympics. For the most part (I went to a public high school in the Midwest, so clearly my perspective is skewed), we're all used to being the most highly achieving asshole in the room. Now that we're surrounded by hundreds of people somewhat like us, one of the few salient things we have left to differentiate ourselves is stress. I'll freely admit that I've done this myself--if ever I feel bad that a classmate or friend is getting published by a Real Person Publication or scored a great internship, I've bitterly reminded myself that I'm currently taking six courses to their four or five and that I can function on considerably less sleep than average.

    When thinking of Svokos' point about changing individual expectations and individual responsibility in general, I think it's important to note that our expectations were not formed in a vacuum. Is it possible for a student group like SWP to ameliorate issues of mental health on campus? Probably not (although an improved CPS certainly wouldn't hurt). Mental health, while of course influenced by one's environment, will always be an issue--on some level it's a matter of brain chemistry. Mental well-being, however, is something a lot easier to tackle. Discussions promoting wellness (for lack of a better term) or at the very least bringing it up should definitely be more present on this campus. I often have to remind myself (at four in the morning, or now, spending Saturday night in NYU's library) that I don't have to do this to myself--I sometimes wonder if that thought ever occurs to some of my classmates. When these conversations, as Svokos suggests, become co-opted into a kind of circle jerk that becomes detached from the realities of its participants, that's when a supposedly wellness-oriented organization has, in effect, failed.

    tl;dr We complain about things because we want to fix them, not for the sake of complaining.

  6. SWP crowd-pleaser  

    CRUCIFY HER, CRUCIFY HER

  7. Bob Sun  

    Alexandra, I agree with Wilfred that this discourse is worth having. I even agree with the sentiment behind some of your points on SWP, though I may not agree with the points themselves. I will say, however, that I am offended you would criticize my reputed actions or character without any attempt to reach out to me beforehand. It seems to suggest to me that your article is more confrontational rather than productive.

    In fact, I let SWP know in advance that I would only be speaking and
    expressed regret at not having planned to join the discussion, since I
    was approached too late to change my conflicting plans (which were not
    only the midterm, as you suggested). I explicitly shared my contact
    information with forum for the specific purpose of continuing to be
    engaged in the dialogue beyond my short speech. I do the same here
    publicly. You may also be interested in the very concrete actions we are taking on CCSC to improve well-being on this campus, including tangible policy change at CPS and Medical Services.

    Email me at bzs2104@columbia.edu. Alexandra, I've also
    reached out to you personally.

    • cccccc  

      lol @ formatting revealing copypaste from email

    • lol  

      " I will say, however, that I am offended you would criticize my reputed actions or character without any attempt to reach out to me beforehand. It seems to suggest to me that your article is more confrontational rather than productive"

      sorry, but i don't get how you could look at a piece voicing some genuine gripes about SWP and zoom in on the short section about you (and about something that it sounds like objectively happened - did you not invite a bunch of people to start a dialogue about wellness, then made a speech TO them before leaving? )

    • Anonymous

      Bob sun you're a jerk

  8. Anonymous

    If you suffer from depression, get it in remission before attempting Ivy-League education. Simple as that. If you have to finish school when you are 30, life isn't over.

  9. Hmm

    There are a few things on my mind.

    One of them is why Wilfred Chan continues to be the face of wellness when he's not even the leader of SWP anymore. Furthermore, why is SWP constantly seen as the only viable organization that promotes wellness. There are many other people and organizations that work on promoting student health and eliminating obstacles between students and help/wellness. Nightline and Rakhi Agrawal are two examples. Furthermore, Chan and SWP haven't always been the most effective or the first to be talking about these ideas on campus. They simply take up a ton of space (see comments above). The celebrity culture needs to stop around this issue because as long as we keep thinking of this movement as one person or one organization, we stunt the longevity of these conversations and the possibility of cultural, institutional, and personal change.

    Another is the fact that saying students are "celebrating misery" or promote "commiseration culture" leaves out too much context. When students don't want to do something academic, a "no" does not suffice. A simple "I don't feel like doing this anymore" or the absence of enthusiastic consent is not honored by teachers, by classmates, by students themselves. We do not have a consent culture at this school. We need to complain and talk about how fucking stressed/depressed/sick we are because that is often the only way our pain and our "no" can gain legitimacy (if it ever does) in the eyes of others and the teachers/institutions whose demands we would like mercy from. We as students are not given the unconditional power to decide for ourselves about our health. For example, if we don't want an investigation of our sexual assault, Title IX mandatory reporting limits our ability to confide in admins and teachers about sexual assault and our subsequent mental health issues. So if we have a paper due but get a PTSD triggered panic attack, then it's difficult if not impossible to tell teachers why we cannot make the deadline, because most teachers do not accept simple "I can't do this right now" w/o enacting some kind of punishment, if they accept it at all.

    Third thing: wellness is not just a Columbia issue. Ignoring that this school exists in a city that does not take care of or even house all of its inhabitants, in an economy built upon exploiting certain classes, and in a nation that required and requires the death, enslavement, and poverty of others for its "growth" and "freedom" makes Columbia out to be this singular institution in a greater culture and history of un-wellness. Stress culture isn't some funny byproduct of being at an Ivy League institution.

  10. SWP  

    Basically provides an unnecessary, uninviting service to this campus. It embodies the very essence of self-importance that permeates most of the people on this campus. It tends to alienate more than it helps.

    • Anonymous  

      THANK YOU. As long as whoever's running SWP cares more about filling their resume than actually looking after their peers, it will continue to fail to reach the truly vulnerable segments of Columbia's student population. Instead of fighting the system and promoting a carefree, relaxed lifestyle, it only recycles the least healthy achievement culture elements that plague our campus

      • Andrea Shang, BC '14 and current SWP co-chair  

        Hey, anons. Any chance any of you would be interested in discussing this with us in person?

        We meet every Sunday at 1 PM in Lerner's SGO room. Everyone is welcome to come to those meetings, and we try to make it a safe space for anyone to voice their opinions, criticisms, and feedback. Today, we will be discussing what transpired at the Summit and how we move forward from here. Resume tips are optional.

        If you feel uncomfortable about meeting us in person, feel free to shoot me or the core an email (uni: as3761. core: swpcore@googlegroups.com).

        • Magnanimous Andrea  

          Is magnanimous. But come on. Asking anons to come meet you in person? Do you even internet? Are you retarded?

          • Magnanimous Andrea  

            also why the hell do you get blue brackets, I want blue brackets

          • Andrea  

            @Anon. I prefer the term "cautiously optimistic." But leaving comments on our blog, cuwellness.com is also an alternative for critics who wish to remain anon.

          • HCE

            GURL, NO. Andrea fucking Shang is one of the greatest people on this campus. She is caring, forgiving, BRILLIANT, smart, witty, funny, and kind. She does so damn much for this community, all the while kicking ass in the classroom and having time to listen to her friends' crazy rants about Harry Potter. I get that this is the Internet, so nothing I say here will really make any difference (and you probably don't even know her...I'm sorry for that), but seriously, please give Andrea the respect she has EARNED. She is both a goddess and a godsend to Columbia, and I honestly am sad to think what Columbia will do without her drive, intelligence, and kindness next year.

            tl;dr: u need to check urself before u wreck urself or u will never get blue brackets

          • HCE

            Also, to answer your question of whether Andrea even "Internets"...have you seen her gif collection? Because DAMN.

      • @Anonymous: Hey anon! Like Andrea said, I'd like to think we're not particularly concerned with resume padding. Please read an op-ed I wrote about that attitude in the pre-med community here:

        http://www.columbiaspectator.com/opinion/2013/11/12/there-more-one-path-medical-school

        I see where you're coming from though! Feel free to come to our final meeting of the semester, Dec 8 from 1-2 in Lerner 505, and see how we really work.

    • Anonymous  

      Yes yes yes.

      Nightline has done more for studennts than SWP ever can and they do it all anonymously.

  11. Wilfred Chahn  

    WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN WILFRED CHAN

    • Anonymous

      yo this is too real

    • Anonymous

      WELLNESS STUDENT LEADERS WELLNESS STUDENT LEADERS WELLNESS STUDENT LEADERS WELLNESS STUDENT LEADERS WELLNESS STUDENT LEADERS WELLNESS STUDENT LEADERS WELLNESS STUDENT LEADERS WELLNESS STUDENT LEADERS WELLNESS STUDENT LEADERS WELLNESS STUDENT LEADERS WELLNESS STUDENT LEADERS WELLNESS STUDENT LEADERS WELLNESS STUDENT LEADERS WELLNESS STUDENT LEADERS WELLNESS STUDENT LEADERS WELLNESS STUDENT LEADERS WELLNESS STUDENT LEADERS WELLNESS STUDENT LEADERS WELLNESS STUDENT LEADERS WELLNESS STUDENT LEADERS WELLNESS STUDENT LEADERS WELLNESS STUDENT LEADERS WELLNESS STUDENT LEADERS WELLNESS STUDENT LEADERS WELLNESS STUDENT LEADERS WELLNESS STUDENT LEADERS WELLNESS STUDENT LEADERS WELLNESS STUDENT LEADERS

  12. Arsene Wenger /wellness/ edition  

    Mental strength and wellness is a key quality I look for in any young player. For inspiration I encourage Columbia students to look to the example of Aaron Ramsey, who had his leg broken but has gone on to produce moments of top top quality this season.

  13. Well-adjusted CC Student  

    I'M NOT CRAZY

    FUCK YOU

  14. Anonymous

    I struggled with intense mental health issues during the past two years of college - interestingly, right after Tina Bu's suicide. In a sense, I think I became conscious of them only after I heard about the death and how she killed herself. I don't know what to conclude from this, but I do have a genetic predisposition to it that I only realized after I came home to live with my family again after college.

    That predisposition wasn't all, though - I faced some of the toughest personal challenges in my whole life the last year of college. While classes didn't make it easy, I wouldn't put the blame on the number of classes I was taking or the 50 page paper I was writing - the problem was with myself and the conflicts I was facing. If anything, I just missed being able to study and learn. If I had to pin it on anything to do with Columbia, it wouldn't be the workload, it might be the stories of students that committed suicide, and those around me who had planned or attempted it. Would I have been depressed even if I'd never heard of Tina Bu and others? Yes, for sure. Would I have been suicidal if I'd never heard these stories? It is really hard to assess given that the conversations surrounding 'wellness' started after Tina's death.

    I know it was terrible getting through that last semester, and it would have helped if my adviser and CPS counselor had told my professors (who were understanding for as much as they were told) to cut me serious slack for the semester. I was in poor shape to study for the most part, and I feel awful that it ended the way it did.

    I'm also seriously put off of SWP. Its initiatives and participants never seemed genuine to me, and it irks me to see they're still not getting addressing any real problems. I wonder how much personal experience they have with wellness issues.

    • Anonymous

      "Would I have been suicidal if I'd never heard these stories?"

      sorry, I phrased this weirdly- I think what I meant to question was whether I would have acted on my depression if I hadn't been conscious of these stories for a very long time

  15. I mean

    I struggled with personal issues relating to my family for four years and saw a therapist off campus. I wasn't ever "well" but I sucked it up most of the time. Mostly because I never felt services here could do anything for me.

  16. Anonymous

    Also, has SWP ever made an effort to hear from students who are suffering from mental health issues tehmselves, or are they diagnosing the problems as they understand them? There's a number of initiatives they could have taken /can still take to try to understand the mental health of columbia's student body - surveying students by school, and particularly at CPS (and the BC equivalent).

    Understand what types of problems plague our community before doing anything else.

  17. Stop with the Personal Attacks!  

    Guys. I don't agree with everything that Student Wellness Project does, or the way the organization presents itself, but I also don't think personal attacks are either necessary or effective. They only make the attacker look like an asshole. So if you have a point to make, make it, but make it well. All you're doing is making your arguments less credible by attaching them to character assassination. (Has anyone noticed that "assassination" is spelled "ass-ass-ination?" How did I never see that before? How as(s)inine of me.)

    I was at the Wellness Summit too and I agree that the questions were misleading and skewed the discussion, and that the mental health administrators left conveniently early for them (a 5.67 average wait time for appointments? I waited a month. Drop-in hours for people with extreme distress? I was turned away because I hadn't phoned in advance to say I was coming.)

    We need to change our "unrealistic self-expectations" but truly no one can do that for you if you are not going to do it yourself. That was the other reason the discussion focused on bureaucracy: you can't legislate individual change but you can try to make the administration do a better job. E.g. hire more doctors for CPS -- clearly a lot of Columbians rely on them. Have administrators be willing to tell us what's going on with major initiatives. Don't make basic tasks on SSOL needlessly complicated. I don't think SWS is a bad organization -- they are trying -- but maybe narrowing their focus would help them be more effective, that's all. And if you don't like someone on SWS, tell them in person. Don't slander them online under cover of anonymity.

  18. Also available if anyone wants to reach out! ads2196@columbia.edu

  19. @Anonymous: What in particular would you like us to be addressing? Part of the goal of this summit was to dispel this idea that we exist as a separate entity from the rest of the student body, outside of wellness issues and stress and everything that affects all of us, and I think we were unsuccessful in that. However, the other goal was to hear from the campus community--what we heard was that students are frustrated with a lack of transparency from the administration and a lack of mindfulness from the student body itself.

    Often, we try to tackle issues piecemeal--this sometimes leads to a sense that we're not working on the big stuff. However, if there's something in particular that you think could be done more effectively or exactly, then please reach out to me directly at ads2196@columbia.edu

    • Anonymous

      You should do a more thorough job of hearing from hte campus community. I don't know what your methods were, but it doesnt seem as if you've reached out to the entire community - you should reach out to the whole student body and judge from their responses what the most important issues are. If I'd been asked, I wouldn't have raised transparency or mindfulness from the student body. I would have talked about the help I'd been getting from CPS and getting extended deadlines so that I wouldn't fail the semester as a result of my problems.

      tldr : conduct an intelligent survey of students' needs, problems, stressors, how many have dealt with depression and CPS etc - do a separate one for willing CPS patients. See what their responses are. Plan from there.

      Second, it'd be nice if you dealt with a problem that even Svokos mentioned here i.e. how to help students whose problems are *not* school/work related. Their/our problems are a completely different ball game, and from what I've read, its often the students with internally caused depression who end up taking their lives.

      I've been through your site and it seems like you guys have invested a lot of effort. I applaud you for that. But none of it helped me through the worst times of my life. Hearing that I wasn't alone in my depression didn't help. Telling me about the benefits sleep didn't help me sleep. Please keep doing the work you're doing, but understand our problems better before going forward.

  20. Anonymous

    These are troubled times.

  21. Anonymous  

    The thought that stress is not unique to any particular school or institution deserves some credit. The clear proliferation of student and administration-run services, medical, psychological, and otherwise, is laudable. Having attended more than one undergraduate school, I would say that Columbia is more proactive than most.

    But also ingrained in this discussion is the thought that, to some extent, there are some by-products of normal academic stress that the mechanisms in place have failed to address or ameliorate.

    I would only add that one of the largest issues facing mental health and social work professionals is the spectral nature of psychological comfort and discomfort - in other words, there's really no way of telling how close to the edge an individual is without subjective self-disclosure. The systems in place via Student Health Services make some room for this and in conjunction with the Dean's Office, permit a professor to address the effect of workload on student stress on a case-by-case basis. Ultimately, though, it is the student's responsibility to speak up. If we are educating tomorrow's leaders, the thought that the same conversation with a manager, executive board, or shareholders has some weight. A student's prior experiences should equip him or her for Columbia; a Columbia education should equip the student for the next step in his or her journey.

    The extent to which the University administrator or healthcare service is responsible for the physical and mental well being of students, who, by definition, attend a school by choice, is not clear. The title IX debate is a good one to have - I would look to articles like this one http://chronicle.com/article/Mandatory-Reporting-for-Title/141785/ for background.

    A family friend of mine went to Columbia in the 80's and graduated, but also developed a heroin addiction while attending. He's been clean for a long time now, but at a cost: he refers to his undergraduate education as his "lost years". He recently filed for bankruptcy. I sometimes wonder if he would have gotten sober earlier if he had more directly utilized whatever resources were available on campus at that time. I also doubt that the demographic being described would be part of any sort of "wellness" conversation unless it was in a detox. I also know that recovery from any state of "un-wellness", exacerbated by stress or otherwise, is not something that a University is equipped (or required by law) to do. I would encourage the SWP to make that distinction as they continue their work.

  22. the rest of the world  

    The thought that stress is not unique to any particular school or institution deserves some credit. The clear proliferation of student and administration-run services, medical, psychological, and otherwise, is laudable. Having attended more than one undergraduate school, I would say that Columbia is more proactive than most.

    But also ingrained in this discussion is the thought that, to some extent, there are some by-products of normal academic stress that the mechanisms in place have failed to address or ameliorate.

    I would only add that one of the largest issues facing mental health and social work professionals is the spectral nature of psychological comfort and discomfort - in other words, there's really no way of telling how close to the edge an individual is without subjective self-disclosure. The systems in place via Student Health Services make some room for this and in conjunction with the Dean's Office, permit a professor to address the effect of workload on student stress on a case-by-case basis. Ultimately, though, it is the student's responsibility to speak up. If we are educating tomorrow's leaders, the thought that the same conversation with a manager, executive board, or shareholders has some weight. A student's prior experiences should equip him or her for Columbia; a Columbia education should equip the student for the next step in his or her journey.

    The extent to which the University administrator or healthcare service is responsible for the physical and mental well being of students, who, by definition, attend a school by choice, is not clear. The title IX debate is a good one to have - I would look to articles like this one http://chronicle.com/article/Mandatory-Reporting-for-Title/141785/ for background.

    A family friend of mine went to Columbia in the 80's and graduated, but also developed a heroin addiction while attending. He's been clean for a long time now, but at a cost: he refers to his undergraduate education as his "lost years". He recently filed for bankruptcy. I sometimes wonder if he would have gotten sober earlier if he had more directly utilized whatever resources were available on campus at that time. I also doubt that the demographic being described would be part of any sort of "wellness" conversation unless it was in a detox. I also know that recovery from any state of "un-wellness", exacerbated by stress or otherwise, is not something that a University is equipped (or required by law) to do. I would encourage the SWP to make that distinction as they continue their work.

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