Earlier this semester, the University announced the official launch of the Behavioral Health Crisis Support Team (BHCST). In an email to the student body on Nov. 9, administration stated that the initiative will begin with a pilot program on Homewood Campus and gradually expand to the entirety of the University.
As of Dec. 10, the team has responded to four distress calls for students and one distress call for a community member, according to Vice Provost for Student Health and Well-Being Kevin Shollenberger and Director of Media Relations Jill Rosen.
Jarron Jackson, senior director of the Office of Campus Safety and Security (Campus Security), explained why his security team views the BHCST as a crucial element for Campus Security’s response to people in crises in an interview with The News-Letter.
“21st-century public safety is really about problem solving,” he said. “I think that need is best fit by a dual response between a public safety officer and a clinician. So that’s why I was excited about the program going forward.”
He explained that whenever a call comes in reporting someone in crisis, the call is routed to a Crisis-Intervention-Trained (CIT) officer who then teams up with a clinician to respond to the call together. They decide who will take the lead in responding to the situation; if the incident poses a public safety threat, the officer will be in charge.
Michael Wood, a therapist on the team, explained how he approaches distressed individuals in an interview with The News-Letter.
“When we approach a scene, it’s typically establishing some rapport with the client, figuring [out] what’s going on [and] what the situation is and working with them to de-escalate and get them back to a baseline and assessing whether or not they need medical assistance,” he said.
To help de-escalate the situation, Woods noted that he uses breathing exercises, mindfulness exercises and distress tolerance exercises as well as carrying out a conversation with the distressed client as a way to reduce a sense of chaos and panic.
Jackson elaborated on how the team ascertains if the situation is a public safety threat, stating that by pairing two experts in their respective fields of public safety and mental health, the overall response will be tailored for the situation at hand.
“Now, we have two experts working together to make that determination. We have our clinician[s] who are the experts in mental health and we have our public safety officers who are experts in that realm,” he said. “Together, they make the decision which route we need to go down in this particular case.”
Jackson also mentioned that the University wishes to expand the program to everywhere the University’s public safety officers are responding and not just confine the service to Hopkins affiliates. However, he noted that expansion plans will depend on the observations of flaws and challenges made in the pilot phase.
Jackson emphasized that the University’s planned private police force and this response team are separate programs. He reiterated that, though they are independent of one another, the response team would complement the services of the police force.
“Some law enforcement agents, they’re sometimes the sole responders to mental health crises,” he said. “With this pattern we’re creating, it creates a foundation where our policies and procedures in responding to mental health crises are actually said to the clinician along with a public safety officer to make the decision to provide the best resources that we can.”
The Coalition Against Policing by Hopkins expressed reservations about the Behavioral Health Crisis Team in an email to The News-Letter.
“The behavioral health unit is another way to surveil and institutionalize people,” it wrote. “Given Hopkins's previous behavior we can only expect disproportionate implementation and lack of community engagement in the project — and danger for us and our neighbors.”
Freshman Peixi Ge highlighted that the BHCST can help distressed troubles get needed assistance while bypassing some of the bureaucratic hurdles affiliated with other mental health resources in an email to The News-Letter.
“Right now, when I think about health-related crisis support provided by Hopkins, I would think of the Counseling Center. However, it usually requires individuals to fill out a lot of paperwork...before chatting with a counselor, which might delay the time that people get help and discourage them from getting help,” she wrote. “The behavioral health crisis team will address this issue and provide a convenient service for people who need it.”
Abigail, a student who spoke with The News-Letter last spring about her negative experience with the University’s handling of her mental health crisis, expressed skepticism concerning the team in an interview. The News-Letter granted her anonymity to protect her privacy; she chose the pseudonym Abigail.
“I see it as being reactive rather than proactive, like addressing the catastrophic outcome of [mental health issues] rather than preventing that catastrophe from coming into fruition,” she said. “If you’re not intervening until someone is considering taking their life or self-harming... like, I feel like it shouldn’t have to come to that for it to matter.”
Abigail argued that the University needs to address the root issues for mental health troubles among the student body, particularly what she views as the toxic campus culture.
“Among students, I think, especially among [those who are on the] pre-med[ical track], there is this sort of... competitiveness, not when it comes to grades but when it comes to hard you’re trying, how overwhelmed you are, how fucked you are for exams,” she said. “Students love to complain and that sort of reinforces this idea that if you’re not suffering, then you’re probably not trying hard enough in school.”
In order to be more of an effective response unit, Abigail recommended that the team have a minimum number of responders, consist of members that are appropriate for the patient’s background and be more considerate of the client’s rights and needs.
In an email to The News-Letter, freshman Sydnee Chang expressed that the launch of the BHCST is a step in the right direction for the University in addressing mental health on campus, though she believes it needs more advertisement.
“I think it’s really important that Hopkins address mental health among its students, especially because the workload can be very intense and a lot of students also want to yet struggle to maintain social lives as well,” she wrote. “I do think the BHCST program could use a lot more publicity and do work reaching out to the students rather than waiting for students to reach out.”
Margery Chen contributed to the reporting of this article.