Campus Mental Health Highlighted

USC Gould School of Law • March 25, 2014
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Saks Institute brings together university officials and students from 50 campuses 

-By Gilien Silsby

The nation’s top mental health experts joined university officials and students from 50 campuses at a recent USC conference on supporting and helping college students with mental illness.

Sponsored by the USC Saks Institute for Mental Health Law, Policy, and Ethics, more than 200 people attended the forum, “Many Voices, One Vision: Assisting College and University Students With Mental Illness to Make the Most of Their Academic Experience.”

Attendees included diverse experts

“This is an extremely important topic,” said Elyn Saks, USC Gould School of Law professor and founder of the Saks Institute. “Many people experience signs of mental illness when they are in college, posing some very real and unique challenges for students, parents and administrators.  Our goal is to start a conversation on how to make life better for those who may suffer from mental illness.”

Nearly every college stakeholder, including students, professors, university leaders, campus mental health professionals, law enforcement personnel and parents, participated in the conference. Discussions ranged from succeeding in college with a major mental illness to reducing the stigma to cultural competence.In addition, several war veterans - suffering with mental illness - spoke about the challenges they face on campus.

Nadine Kaslow, president of the American Psychological Association, and Jeffrey Liberman, president of the American Psychiatric Association, led panel discussions with university students. The students discussed how they dealt with academic demands and prevented derailment of a successful academic experience while coping with mental illness.

Panelist discuss mental health on campus

In his opening remarks, Stephen Behnke, chairman of the Saks Institute, recognized the many students who participated in the conference and represented the backbone of the event.

“When we think of the first generation of scholars with mental disabilities that have come out—Elyn Saks, Kay Jamison, Marsha Linehan—we think of people with enormous talent and energy who disclosed their illness after they had compiled impressive academic and professional achievements. They told their stories when they had achieved unassailable professional stature. Many in the next generation of scholars are not waiting. They are willing to tell their stories now, and it is they who will carry this agenda forward. That takes courage.”

Students from Active Minds, Free Minds, the American Bar Association student organization, Lived Experience Research Network and Student Veterans of America presented their work.

A number of USC administrators also took part in the discussion, including Katharine Harrington, vice president of USC Admissions and Planning; Lynette Merriman, assistant provost for Student Affairs, Support, and Advocacy; and John Thomas, executive director/chief, Career and Protective Services, DPS.

Elyn Saks (far left) and Steve Behnke (far right) with Saks Scholars 

“I am thrilled that we heard from so many different people about how we can come together to help students,” Saks said. “This is personal for me – I first experienced signs of mental illness as a student. I definitely believe I would have benefited from campus support that was almost non-existent back then. We have made great strides and I believe we will only get better as the stigma of mental illness is lessened and people are educated about the topic.”

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