Psychiatry Innovation Lab: CARES Program Update

2019 Psychiatry Innovation Lab Presented by Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc.
  • Sunday, May 19, 2019
  • Noon - 5:00 p.m.

During my undergraduate studies at Stanford University, I witnessed many of my peers experiencing symptoms of mental illness and wanted to explore how I could make a meaningful impact. From 2016-2017, I spoke to over 50 students, clinicians, faculty, health professionals and scoured peer-reviewed literature in an attempt to understand the landscape of student mental illness and any potential opportunities to improve student well-being. My conversations taught me three key insights:

  • Although students shared common risk factors (e.g. stress) for mental illness, the severity and way in which mental illness presented itself widely differed.
  • Many resources existed at the university level and outside, but few students were aware of them.
  • There were other barriers, including the stigma associated with mental illness, that prevented students from accessing the resources they needed.

From these insights, I started CARES, an initiative to integrate mental health prevention services and education with student life. We hoped to address these issues systematically by bringing wellness services directly to campus communities, with the help of administrators, health professionals, clinicians, and students. Most importantly, we wanted to educate students on skills for self-resilience and share local resources available.

In May 2017, I had the opportunity to present CARES to the Psychiatry Innovation Lab as a semi-finalist. As a first-time Annual Meeting attendee, I felt inspired by the enormity of the conference and sheer breadth of projects to improve mental health care. I heard several pitches ranging from new therapy models to phone applications to support domestic violence survivors.

It was very helpful to get the feedback of physicians and tech entrepreneurs on many aspects of executing this idea. For instance, one of the judges pointed out that our workshops would be strengthened by evaluating the relevant mental health outcomes.

Hearing their feedback and encouragement motivated me, at a time when it was unclear how to exactly proceed. Since then, working with Vaden Health Center at Stanford University, we pilot tested CARES in 3 graduate departments and a community center. I am particularly excited that the results look promising based on a pre v. post test survey, with 89% of participants highly recommending the program, and an 18% increase in resilience-based outcomes.

Our effort is now to spark interest from other college campuses. We are starting a newsletter and will be publishing several reports related to our work. For me, when wellness is inextricably tied to student life, it becomes part of the culture and creates an environment where students can flourish long term. CARES is a small step in this direction.


Vishnu Shankar
Vishnu Shankar is currently a master's student at Stanford University studying computer science. He is interested in a wide-array of subjects ranging from biochemistry to statistics. He hopes to help find a cure for neurodegenerative diseases.




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