The University’s “How to Help a Friend” pamphlet, distributed to undergraduates after the suicide of Wharton junior Ao “Olivia” Kong this April, saw limited efficacy in appeasing undergraduates students’ desires for increased mental health resources.
In an email sent to all undergraduate students on April 19, Vice Provost for University Life Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum reminded students of the mental health support services available at Penn. Among the options mentioned was the “How to Help a Friend” pamphlet, sent to every undergraduate student both in an email and through the mail.
The “How to Help a Friend” flyer, designed to educate students on how to help struggling fellow students, has been a part of the University’s Counseling and Psychological Services for several years. The Division of the Vice Provost for University Life noted that the pamphlets are “part of a larger multimedia informational campaign” that includes other pamphlets focused on “sleep, depression, grief and loss and group therapy options.”
Swain-Cade McCoullum said that the University chose to distribute the pamphlets, long available in the CAPS office and at other locations around campus, to students individually because “we wanted to provide students with as much support as possible, and they asked for guidance on how to nurture each other through challenging times.”
Despite the University’s efforts to increase awareness of and access to these mental health resources, some students felt that the pamphlets didn’t do enough.
Rising College senior Trudel Pare noted that while she and her roommate, who have contacted CAPS, received the pamphlet in the mail, “my two other roommates didn’t, which struck me as odd.”
Students also expressed frustration towards the University’s overall approach to mental health on campus.
Rising College junior Madeleine Andrews, who received a pamphlet in the mail, said she felt the pamphlets were “representative of the way they [the University] have handled these things. Kind of hands off, clean, and not super real or involved.”
While Andrews said she understood that only so much could be done through a distributed material, she noted that “a pamphlet in the mail feels particularly distant and cold.”
Pare echoed this statement.
“It seemed like kind of a cheap and callous way to attempt to have a conversation that should be more serious than a letter mailed to students,” she said.
While Andrews said she appreciated that the University was trying to aid students in the wake of a tragedy, she nevertheless felt that “they could do better.” The lack of significant communication after Kong’s death, as well as the feeling that the university initially did not acknowledge that her death was a suicide, made Andrews feel like the University was sending a “message that it’s something to be hidden and not discussed.”
This thought resonated with other students, who felt that the pamphlet reflected the University’s slow progress in understanding that meaningful change and reform needs to be enacted, rather than just a reminder of what resources are available.
“The University ignores a lot of the mental health issues on campus,” Pare said.
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.