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U. administrators hold dialogue on mental health

Of the approximately 135 students who take time off from the University each year, about 35 take leaves of absence for mental health reasons, Dean of Undergraduate Students Kathleen Deignan told students at a dialogue with administrators on Tuesday about mental health on campus.

Of those 35 students, the University has a serious safety concern and pursues involuntary withdrawal for about three to five students, Deignan noted. The remainder of students come to their decision voluntarily, whether it is due to safety concerns or simply the benefits of taking time off, she said.

The dialogue between students and administrators comes after weeks of criticism of the University’s handling of mental health policies.

In March, a student filed a lawsuit in federal court against the University alleging that it had engaged in discrimination when handling a case of attempted suicide. In April, a student published an anonymous op-ed in The Daily Princetonian criticizing the administration’s practice of demanding detailed medical records from students who have taken time off for mental health reasons.

The University is reconsidering the language of letters sent to students who are taking time off due to mental health reasons, Executive Director of University Health Services John Kolligian said. The goal is to make students feel more welcome, Kolligian said.

Counseling and Psychological Services does not report students to the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students, CPS director Calvin Chin said. Rather, ODUS may request an evaluation of a student from CPS, such as after a suicide attempt, or reports from friends to a residential college adviser.

CPS only issues general recommendations and does not report the substance of a conversation, Chin noted, adding that CPS is bound by New Jersey state law to protect patient-therapist confidentiality.

CPS evaluations are usually requested by ODUS not with the goal of promoting leave but with helping a student in making his or her choice, Deignan said, noting, however, that most students do follow through with the ODUS recommendation for leave when it is made.

UHS would like to see evidence that students will be able to thrive when they re-enter campus, but the University will only move to block a student’s re-entry if that student is deemed to pose a safety threat, Kolligian said, adding that the University re-admits students who have not followed its recommendations for treatment if they meet this criterion.

Several students said at the meeting they had had issues with scheduling prompt appointments with CPS. The Unviersity currently has 13 full-time caregivers, or approximately one for every 650 undergraduate and graduate students. CPS will expand its hours of operation in the fall, Chin said.

Chin also said there were larger cultural changes that could take place in the University to make it a less stressful place, noting the Advisory Board to Healthier Princeton two years ago identified stress as the number-one health concern for the University and will bring in an expert in stress and resiliency later this week with whom to talk.

“How can we encourage people not to be so overprogrammed?” Chin said.

Multiple students suggested including a CPS component to the mandatory programming in freshman orientation similar to the Department of Public Safety’s presentation to reduce stigma. One student suggested that it needed to be made more clear that health is a priority at the University, even if it conflicts with assignments or other obligations.

The University will upgrade the UHS website this year so that students can sort therapists by areas of expertise, Kolligian said, adding that the change is “way overdue.”

U-Councilor Zhan Okuda-Lim ’15 said that the next dialogue with administrators on Friday in the Forbes Living Room at 2:30 p.m. will focus on specific policy changes that students would like to see.

The event was organized by the ODUS, UHS, CPS, the Princeton Mental Health Initiative and the USG Senate.

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