Yale University recently announced that it would allow its students to take a medical leave of absence from school in response to mental health concerns rather than requiring that they withdraw. These students can now take up to four terms of leave and do not need to reapply when returning to campus.
The university announced these changes a few months after students filed a lawsuit claiming that better accommodations were needed to support students with mental health disabilities. Yale students and Elis for Rachel, an advocacy and support group at the university, filed the lawsuit in December 2022.
These recent changes should prompt us to analyze Georgetown University’s medical and mental health policies to ensure that student well-being is at the forefront. I believe that while Georgetown already has a relatively flexible medical leave of absence policy, it should improve the accessibility of on-campus mental health resources. As an international student who has sometimes struggled to use on-campus services such as HoyaWell, a telehealth service for Georgetown students, it is important to make these resources more readily available regardless of background and income levels.
Similar to Yale’s new policies, Georgetown allows students to request a medical leave of absence (MLOA) if a mental health or medical condition seriously compromises their academic performance and daily life. Students will face no academic penalty and can consult with the Counseling and Psychiatric Service (CAPS) and the dean’s office regarding the amount of time they want away from Georgetown.
There is no set restriction as to how long a student can take this leave. Though the return process is time-intensive and requires relevant evidence and collaboration between health care providers and the dean’s office, each case is dealt with on an individual basis.
It is helpful to know that Georgetown’s MLOA policy is student-oriented and flexible. For many students, however, taking an extended leave of any kind may be the last resort. This means that Georgetown should also focus on improving and expanding its mental health services on campus.
Georgetown has tried to provide a variety of options to students but must double down on its efforts to make these more accessible. For example, CAPS is often fully booked, and follow-up appointments and treatment options are constantly delayed.
Alternatives to CAPS, according to the Georgetown website, include HoyaWell, HealthiestYou and the general Student Health Center. HoyaWell is generally a good alternative for students, as it has the option for on-demand telehealth and telemental consultations with a diverse choice of therapists. However, there continue to be problems regarding reach, which I noticed as an international student.
During my summer break in 2022, I was in India, and there were times when I wanted to use HoyaWell. Unfortunately, I couldn’t because “TimelyMD providers are only licensed in the USA at this time and are unable to care for students outside of the US,” according to a customer support representative. International students make up about 14% of Georgetown’s undergraduate student body. As Georgetown students, I believe we all should be able to access some kind of support abroad, even when we are not on U.S. soil.
Similarly, while HealthiestYou is easy to use, on-demand and free for students on university health insurance, it is extremely expensive for those who are not on university health insurance, costing $200 for the initial visit and $95 per visit afterward. It is imperative to make these resources more accessible or provide alternatives so that certain groups of students are not disadvantaged.
Mental illness can impact anyone at any time, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity and background. Nationwide collegiate surveys show that mental health is worsening in student bodies across college campuses. A 2023 survey by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators revealed that 72% of the members reported that the mental health of students at their institution had worsened over the past year.
Moreover, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that while mental health was worsening before the pandemic, the burdens of the COVID-19 pandemic contributed toward further deteriorating the mental well-being of students, faculty and staff globally.
Thus, it is essential that higher education institutions, which are often mental pressure cookers and home to immense academic and social stressors, promote a friendly and accessible environment for those requiring support, no matter how “small” or “large” a mental health issue. One does not need to have a diagnosed mental illness to need support and guidance.
While Georgetown has made great strides to make mental health resources available to all, it must continue to support students regardless of income level or background by working with health care providers to expand their services and encouraging professors and faculty to highlight these services to their students. Just as Yale University has revisited its policies, Georgetown must follow suit.
Priyasha Chakravarti is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. Mental Health Messages is published every third Friday.