Stony Brook is no exception to mental illness

By Janelle Clausen and Stephen Infantolino

Stony Brook University has been described as affordable, communal, diverse and exceptional, just to name a few. It is considered in the top one percent of universities around the world, ranked number 88 by US News and World Report and roughly 90 percent of its graduates get jobs after graduation.

However, Stony Brook has a less prestigious title, and that is the 11th unhappiest school in the nation among 379 top schools, according to the 2015 edition of the Princeton Review.

And it is certainly not immune to mental illness that plagues other college campuses.

A 2012 survey by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors showed that 95 percent of college counseling center directors said the “amount of students with significant psychological problems is a growing problem.” SBU was a part of this survey.

But just how many students suffer? Last year, the Statesman reported that 1700 students came to CAPS for help last year, double what it was in 2004. It is open to students from 8:30am to 5pm on most weekdays. It’s unclear, however, how many students CAPS has served this year due to confidentiality.

Meanwhile, 52 percent of people in a 2007 ACHA survey at Stony Brook University “reported feeling so depressed that it was difficult to function at least once in the past school year.” More than 25 percent of college students have been diagnosed or treated by a professional for a mental health condition, according to the American College Health Association.

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) declined to comment for this story, but some students had plenty to say.

“A lot of people don’t talk about it, and I know there is a lot of depression on campus, and I know it’s really hard to find something that relaxes you because you’re so caught up in your studies and you’re so caught up in what you’re doing,” said Emily Markowitz, 22, a marine science major. “It’s really hard for people to get out of that and remove themselves.”

“They have this really negative ball around them and that travels and that’s contagious,” Markowitz added.

Alex Bouraad, an 18-year old bio-pre med major and fellow trained in recognizing depression symptoms, said that Stony Brook has some- but not enough- resources for people with depression.

“I feel like Stony Brook lacks a lot of the support people with depression need,” Bouraad said. “There are options like going to CAPS, or going to CPO or seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist, but it’s not as readily available as it should be.”

Stony Brook acknowledges that mental health and suicide are a growing issue. Events like “Part of the Pack,” a suicide awareness and prevention program ran by the residence halls, had representatives from CAPS present. Programs like “Let’s Talk”, an extension of CAPS, also try to close the distance, allowing some students in Tabler Quad and West Apartments to talk to someone without journeying far in the evening when CAPS is closed.

And yet, it can still feel like nobody is there to help.

“Sometimes I guess it can be very lonely and quiet,” said Elizabeth Lyton, 21, a senior majoring in health science. “So most people do feel like there are no other students to reach out to.”

“It has more to due with the stress levels,” she added.

But there are options on campus, according to Cathrine Duffy, associate dean of student support on campus. Student Support, she said, works as a “network of other departments” and does a lot of “behind the scenes” work like validating documentation and reaching out to professors in the event of a hospitalization or a death in the family.

“We do this in a way so that students don’t have to repeat their story six different times because that can be traumatizing for them,” Duffy said.

Duffy also pointed out that there are other resources like CAPS, Financial Aid, Disability Support Services and the Academic Success and Tutoring Center that they could refer students to. She noted that when students feel secure academically, they feel happier.

There are also times where students just need to blow off steam, be it at Earthstock, Roth Regatta, Strawberry Fest, community events or clubs on campus.

“College is hard. We recognize that, so we do a lot,” Duffy said. “A lot of student activities, weekend life programming, a lot of the residential hall programming, campus recreation center- the reason these places program so actively is to give students a healthy outlet.”

Undergraduate Student Government’s latest budget shows that clubs receive over one million dollars in funding and the student activities board alone gets over $600,000.

“At this point there’s more than 400 clubs and organizations, so get involved, find something,” Duffy said. “If there’s not a club for you, work with student activities to create something.”

Jacqueline Lennon, 22, is one of many students who recognize that Stony Brook has groups and resources available. But at the end of the day, she said, the university can’t please everybody.

“So I know there is groups and stuff like that,” she said. “But you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. There is only so much you can do.”

Stony Brook Athletics tackles challenges of academics

460,000 NCAA student-athletes have to fit their sports and social lives along with school work into their daily schedules. The problem is, there are only 24 hours in a day.

“It’s very hard. It’s very hard,” Courtney Rickard, Stony Brook’s Assistant Athletic Director for Student-Athlete Development, said. “I tell every recruit and their families when they come, I would have failed out of school if I had been a Division I student-athlete.”

There are some programs that help their pupils take the easy way out to squeeze sports and school work in, while still getting through the rigors of a college course load.

The University of North Carolina used “fake paper classes” for 18 years, according to multiple media outlets. Student-athletes never had to meet, and they only wrote one paper per semester. Stony Brook Athletics does not want to go down that road.

“We’re not the North Carolina scandal, we’re going to do it right,” Rickard said. “If we’re going to have athletics at Stony Brook, we’re going to do it right.”

That has not always been the case for the Seawolves. Way before Stony Brook’s baseball team went to the 2012 College World Series, the men’s basketball team beat the No. 13-ranked squad in the nation at the end of 2014 and the women’s lacrosse team earned a top-five national ranking this year, the Athletics Department found itself in trouble.

According to The New York Times, the school lost 12 and a half athletic scholarships for two seasons based on violations. The report states that, “some academically ineligible students were allowed to compete, some did not have satisfactory grade-point averages, and others did not have enough credit hours for graduation.”

Ever since, Stony Brook Athletics’ administration has worked with its student-athletes to make their two jobs—one as a student and another as an athlete— as successful as possible.

Student-athletes do not only have the pressure of performing in their respective sporting venue, but in the classroom as well. (Andrew Eichenholz)
Student-athletes do not only have the pressure of performing for their respective team, but in the classroom as well. (Andrew Eichenholz)

“You’ve got the athletics piece and you’ve got the academics piece and heaven forbid they want to join a club, they want to be involved in something, that’s a drain on their time,” Rickard said. “Our job really is to try to help alleviate any of that stress and really organize their day.”

Ever since Rickard started as an advisor at Stony Brook in 2003, Seawolves student-athletes have improved in the classroom. The department’s overall grade-point average has risen from a 2.86 in the 2003-2004 academic year to its current number of 3.08.

Stony Brook’s Director of Athletics, Shawn Heilbron, will soon unveil that the department seeks to bring the overall GPA to a 3.15 as part of a larger five year plan, per Rickard.

According to Dr. Richard Laskowski, who was the Dean of Physical Education and Athletics at Stony Brook over a decade ago, departments looking to increase performance both on and off of the field, as Stony Brook is attempting to do, face a challenge.

“You’ve got to bring in good students. But history shows, unfortunately, that generally the higher the level of athletic performance that’s asked for in a university, the more difficult it is to get those students who have high grades,” Laskowski said. “They’re more likely to focus on their athletic ability.”

An example is the University of Notre Dame, where according to Laskowski, who was also a high-ranking administrator at St. John’s University, the Fighting Irish have slightly lowered their standards for the sake of securing students who can help them the most on the playing field.

According to CNN, the academic fraud bug bit them in 2014. “Several University of Notre Dame students, including four football players, are being investigated over academic fraud allegations, the university said.”

Stony Brook's teams win conference championships, send student-athletes to the pros, and more recently, have increased their GPAs. (Andrew Eichenholz)
Stony Brook’s teams win conference championships, send student-athletes to the pros, and more recently, have increased their GPAs. (Andrew Eichenholz)

Stony Brook does not want to sacrifice its academics for anything.

“Because of the high standards we have here at Stony Brook, we always wanted to do that, that was always one of our goals when we were doing a strategic plan or a five-year plan, increase the GPAs,” Laskowski said. “But to do that, it’s hard to also increase the level of your athletic program, it’s not that easy. It’s very challenging.”

That is a struggle that Rickard and company deal with every day.

“Coaches don’t like surprises at the end of the semester,” she said. “but we don’t like surprises during the semester.”

Academic coaches meeting individually with students and teams holding study halls at the Stuart Goldstein Student-Athlete Development Center are some of the efforts made to keep students on track.

“It’s everybody at the table,” Rickard said. “Everyone involved with student athlete welfare coming to the table and working so that the calendar of things they have to do somehow fits in those 24 hours.”

To faculty, it is not about merely helping student-athletes skate by and just earn their degrees, either. Since Heilbron took the job a year ago, much time has been spent focusing on what comes next for the Seawolves.

“That hundred percent placement in something after graduation is going to fall on our shoulders here in student-athlete development and it really always has, but now it’s put into place, it’s written out,” Rickard said. “I think that’s a challenge because that’s a hard task to fill, but at the same time, that’s what our mission is. I always tell people on their recruiting visit, ‘if you come here for four years and you leave and you have no idea what to do after that, I have failed you.’”

Despite the obstacles, Stony Brook Athletics is not failing, but only building upwards.