Advocacy surrounding insufficient mental health resources on our campus is as commonplace and substandard as O’Donovan Hall’s food and lame jokes about its grungy food. However, while lousy garbage jokes may last only a few fleeting seconds, a negative experience with mental health resources at Georgetown can define one’s college experience. It is only appropriate, then, that a new initiative — Project Lighthouse — has launched, providing students with an anonymous, peer-to-peer online mental health resource supported by volunteers seeking to assist their fellow students.
By now, every Hoya who has ever read a newspaper, bi-weekly magazine or four-month-old Stall Seat Journal is familiar with the conversation surrounding mental health resources at Georgetown. Too many Hoyas are unable to dependably access the resources they need to combat stress, depression and anxiety. Recent national surveys conducted by the National College of Health Assessment in the spring of 2015 demonstrate a significant need to address these concerns: In a period of 12 months, 56.9 percent of college students nationally report feeling “overwhelming anxiety,” 58.8 percent of students reported feeling “very lonely,” and 85.6 percent of students reported feeling literally “overwhelmed by all they had to do.” While we were the candidates who pledged to use your tuition dollars to buy a margarita machine, we also believe students ought to be able to turn to reliable mental health resources when they are in need. And we’re working on both.
Until now, Counseling and Psychiatric Services and Health Education Services have been the only places students could turn to for mental health support on campus. Though we applaud the professionals who provide much-needed services in these offices, inadequate funding and logistical challenges have prevented many Hoyas from receiving a proper level of care. Last semester’s Mental Health Open Forum highlighted the limitations of CAPS services due to an increasing caseload, a ratio of 1:1,035 students to staff members, and office hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (“Hoyas for Mental Health,” The Hoya, 10/27/15.
Recognizing this administrative shortcoming, many students, specifically those in Active Minds at at Georgetown University, Actively Moving Forward and Creating Survivors, have made great strides in improving education and mitigating the mental health stigma at Georgetown. Project Lighthouse, the most recent advancement in the accessibility and scope of mental health resources on campus, builds upon the work of these groups through its leadership by students, for students.
Through Project Lighthouse, students will receive instantaneous service in realtime. The program is designed to take on a high volume of students, ensuring flexible and timely access to someone willing to listen and assist. Students will be able to speak with understanding and knowledgeable peers.
The program directors of Project Lighthouse have worked with mental health advocates from across campus to specifically address issues that students have faced in the past when trying to access resources. Not unlike a literal lighthouse guiding ships in the fog of “The Wash,” Project Lighthouse will serve as a “guiding light” by expanding access to resources and pointing the way forward.
The program will train student peer supporters (in a similar manner to the Georgetown Emergency Response Medical Service) who will be available from 6 p.m. – 2 a.m., seven days a week to anonymously chat with fellow Hoyas.
Project Lighthouse’s potential to impact the lives of Hoyas depends on this inaugural class of peer supporters. A strong, committed first class of supporters is absolutely essential to the success of this program. We urge any and all interested students to explore this opportunity further, and hope that many of you will answer the call to serve as men and women for others within our community. We can think of no better way for motivated students to help fight the epidemic of mental health issues on our campus. Except for donating your brain to science. Maybe that.
Joe Luther is a senior in the College. Connor Rohan is a senior in the College. They are the president and vice president, respectively, of the Georgetown University Student Association.