In wake of the semester’s second student suicide last Wednesday, student government officials met with the dean of students to highlight campus initiatives on mental health and other issues.
University of Wisconsin Dean of Students Lori Berquam joined Coordinating Council last night to update the board on her office’s four main initiatives, including policies on preferred names, emergency contact information, an initiative to contact young alumni and a mental health campaign.
According to Berquam, UW averages approximately one suicide per semester and has seen two this semester, making the issue of mental health increasingly “critical” on campus.
In response to the tragic incident, Berquam said she will be hiring two additional staff to her department to address the growing need for mental health outreach, a move that will ultimately place her “in the red” with respect to her budget.
Berquam said the number of students seeking such attention has quadrupled. She also stressed she would much rather hire staff past budget than let students go without help.
“I would much rather have students come forward say ‘I am struggling’ than have them suffer in silence,” Berquam said.
Associate Students of Madison Chief of Staff Sarah Neibart applauded the measures being taken by Berquam’s office, but added that they seem to all be “reactionary” instead of analyzing the potential source of the problem.
Berquam added she is more concerned with measures to help students currently.
“I am a strong proponent of not looking at the problem, but looking at the solution,” Berquam said.
Among these solutions, Berquam said she will be putting her staff through mental health training, a program that will cost approximately $100 per person, in hopes to ultimately bring a comprehensive program to UW.
ASM Chair Andrew Bulovsky also suggested involving faculty by encouraging professors to add a paragraph to the end of their syllabi denoting mental health resources on campus.
Since the onset of the fall semester, faculty, professors and teachers’ assistants have all been given a “red folder” with important mental health information, according to Berquam.
She said UW fluctuates between third and fourth in the Big Ten for number of suicides with Northwestern University being ranked first.
Berquam also addressed other initiatives from the Division of Student Life, emphasizing the importance of the preferred name policy, a measure Berquam said she hopes will be enacted by fall of 2013.
The policy will ultimately allow students to use their preferred name in venues like the classroom, student identification card and Wiscmail. It has received significant positive feedback from the student body and campus organizations, according to ASM Diversity Committee Chair Mia Akers.
Akers asked Berquam whether ASM needed to do any further work raising awareness on the issue, to which Berquam said her department is well aware of student interest regarding the issue.
ASM spokesperson David Gardner requested Berquam tweet about the mental health campaign.
ASM will also be sponsoring a Mental Health Fair that is set to be held in the Education Building on Monday, Gardner said.