May 24, 2018

Discussing mental health

I am writing to share with you the process by which we care for students who experience mental health issues. A recent lawsuit by several Stanford students has focused attention on how we address student mental health issues, and policies regarding leaves of absence and housing for students who are facing serious mental health issues.

More than ever, students share with us their deep concern about mental health and its impact on their ability to thrive at Stanford. We have learned that students’ mental health needs are extraordinarily diverse, and we are continually learning how to provide mental health resources that best meet the wide range of student needs, from culturally sensitive counseling to evidence-based mindfulness practices to extensive on-site psychiatry services.

While we have made progress, we know that we have work to do. This work must include helping students in crisis, but equally important it must prevent crises by creating a campus environment that promotes wellbeing for all. This includes ensuring all students experience a deep and abiding sense of belonging and purpose, develop resilience and meaningful relationships, and have ready access to resources and support for holistic wellbeing.

A lawsuit was recently filed alleging that the University is not in compliance with disability laws when working with some students with mental-health disabilities. In particular, it focuses on issues of housing holds and leaves of absence. We appreciate that these students have raised their concerns, and we will always engage with students who feel that we need to improve our policies and processes.

For over two months prior to the filing of the suit, the University has been engaged with Disability Rights Advocates, the lawyers representing the students in the current case, about their concerns with Stanford’s policies. During the course of this engagement, we had adopted a new policy on housing holds that communicates our process clearly and transparently, and we were continuing to talk to them when the suit was filed.

We wish to reinforce our heartfelt concern for student mental health and our drive to continually improve the ways we support students individually across all aspects of their experience. Student Affairs has identified mental wellbeing as one of its top division-wide priorities alongside equity and inclusion. While Student Affairs has primary responsibility for student mental health and wellbeing, we know that campus-wide engagement is critical to addressing the range of student needs. In March, I asked the leaders of the VPSA Mental Health and Wellbeing Advisory Board, which includes student, faculty and staff members from across campus, to design and implement a comprehensive, public health approach to improving student mental wellbeing. This Board will begin rolling out recommendations in fall quarter 2018. Student voices are essential to this ongoing process. We will also continue to evaluate our policies, including our Dean’s Leave of Absence Policy, to ensure not only ongoing compliance but compassionate and appropriate care for individual students’ health and recovery.

As we seek new solutions through the Advisory Board, we continue to provide the critical resources for students facing acute and chronic mental health issues, including: 24/7 on-call professional staff from Student Affairs to respond when students are in crisis; mental health services at CAPS; 24/7 availability for psychiatric assessment in the Stanford Hospital Emergency Department by physicians from the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences; and comprehensive case management, including referral coordination, hospital visitation where appropriate, and coordination of care with local and home providers.

We invite you to continue to share with us your experiences and your suggestions for how we can improve our support to the student community.