Interim President Michael Bernstein announced a new student mental health resource, titled Red Book, during the first University Senate meeting of the semester on Sept. 9.
Red Book was designed by the Division of Student Affairs, headed by Dr. Richard Gatteau, the vice president for student affairs and dean of students. It is a student care initiative that has compiled information about mental health on a website to enable students, faculty and staff to better understand and help students with mental health concerns. The website is expected to launch mid-fall.
Bernstein went over a range of subjects that Red Book will cover, including how to manage students who are exhibiting disturbing or disruptive behavior, students who are in emotional distress, students who may be suicidal, students who are struggling with sexual or intimate partner violence, students who are in distress, students facing discrimination and bigotry and the subject of missing students.
“This site will be a comprehensive tool for us all, and will give clear direction on how to engage with these concerns,” Bernstein said. “This includes information regarding a student support team that will be of value to all of our students, undergraduate and graduate professional students who face these challenges.”
The site will also include support for student financial insecurities and death and loss, Bernstein said. Red Book additionally allows for collaboration between faculty, staff and the CARE team — groups that address student behavior that may disrupt the university — which will help these groups better understand the issues of the student body. Bernstein said Red Book is meant to help broaden the effort of the Behavioral Assessment Committee, whose primary function is to deal with student safety on campus.
Ahmed Belazi, the director of planning and staff development in the Division of Student Affairs, and Dr. Smita Majumdar Das, the director for the Center for Prevention and Outreach (CPO), are the heads of the development on Red Book.
The collaboration and development of Red Book was a result of the Garret Lee Smith Campus Suicide Prevention Grant received by the university from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in 2018. The grant is for $219,000 over the next three years, Majumdar Das said.
“We were looking to collaborate on distributing and scaling the number of tools in the Stony Brook University community that would empower faculty, staff and students in helping advance the initiatives around mental health,” Belazi said. “The question was: ‘what’s a tool that you can share with faculty and staff that would help them to reduce the challenges to connecting A to B [warning signs] and specifically then to C [the solution]?’”
Red Book connects students and staff with evidence-based literature to help them recognize students potentially struggling with mental health, and point them towards help on campus; the goal is to create an ease of accessibility, Belazi said. The website will offer a list of numbers to helpful organizations on and off-campus, such as Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and the Student Accessibility Support Center (SASC).
“For Red Book … It’s how do you present what is present in a way that is consumable and easy to access and adapt for people who are using it,” Majumdar Das said. “This was designed to have everything wrapped together in a catalog, in an indexed format that will be easily accessible.”
Vivien Llanes, a senior health science major, is an alcohol and drug student assistant with Red Watch Band, an organization that helps provide students with knowledge and skills regarding substance abuse. Llanes believes that with the abundant resources on campus such as CAPS, students may not know what resources to use in certain situations. She said that Red Book, which could act as a solution to this problem, will have a large impact.
“I work here at CPO to try and get people to learn about the resources on campus that we have, and if there’s a unified way to them to find and have accessibility for them, I think that’s great,” Llanes said.
Red Book will also help integrate Cognito, a new separate program designed to train faculty, staff and students to help students who might be experiencing emergency psychiatric concerns. They describe Red Book and Cognito as a “multi-pronged” approach to help engage people in distress on campus.
Red Book is almost at the end of its development, Majumdar Das and Belazi said. They hope that Red Book can become a widespread and known resource throughout the university community; their hope is that Red Book becomes a stable mental health resource that will constantly improve throughout its life with new updates and information based on feedback.
“What people do with it, how you increase awareness around it, and how it is used will actually make a difference,” Majumdar Das said. “Dr. Bernstein talking about it, Dr. Gatteau talking about it, that’s what will actually make a difference. The tool doesn’t make the difference, what is done with the tool is important, it’s about keeping the conversation alive.”