Creating Survivors, a student-run nonprofit dedicated to mental health issues, has plans to expand its Georgetown chapter to provide services to more students.
The nonprofit, which was created in September 2014 by Jairus Nytes (COL ’16), provides students with free access to licensed psychotherapists to prevent teen suicide and assist students struggling with mental health. Nytes intends for the Georgetown chapter to be a pilot upon which other universities can base their own Creating Survivors programs.
“As I have re-evaluated how health services are offered in general on college campuses, it became very clear to me that the need is present here on college campuses,” Nytes said. “Just because services are out there doesn’t mean they are the most effective services that students need.”
The university has received criticism for its poor management of the Georgetown Counseling and Psychiatric Service, which critics argue receives insufficient funding and training for its counselors.
The program has a three-pronged approach: advocacy for funding for psychotherapists in schools and for minors without parental consent; counseling and support for students struggling with mental illness; and training for educators to inform them about the intricacies of mental health. These services are available to Georgetown students.
To Nytes, peer counseling is the most effective method of preventing the problems related to mental health. He cited his own experience as an example of the positive peer counseling he wishes to impart on others who look to Creating Survivors for health services.
“Counseling radically changed my life,” Nytes said. “It helped me focus on my education so that I could continue and get to Georgetown.”
Currently, the group is working with CAPS to create a master curriculum for its peer-counseling program, in which participants will be educated about recognizing depression and suicidal tendencies among peers. This curriculum also includes student-led support groups focused on specific issue areas such as substance abuse and eating disorders.
CAPS President Philip Meilman explained that he looked to Cornell University’s student-led, free counseling program, Empathy, Assistance and Referral Service, as an inspiration for Creating Survivors. Meilman provided advice and support to Nytes, utilizing Cornell’s program as a template.
Cornell’s EARS program, which was established in the early 1970s, provides professional peer-counseling services for members of the university community.
“We provided Jairus Nytes with background information regarding the peer support program at Cornell University,” Meilman wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Nytes plans on improving the existing program by increasing the number of free psychotherapy sessions that students can receive, reforming Georgetown’s medical leave of absence policy to better suit students’ needs and reorganizing the budget for the next year to increase the amount of money spent on mental health.
According to Nytes, the original target audience for the program was middle and high school students. However, after discussing his idea with other students at Georgetown, he received an overwhelmingly positive response and realized that the program should be utilized at Georgetown, and eventually, at other universities and high schools.
“We were going to start the program here in the Georgetown area and get college students interested and have them run this program in high schools,” Nytes said. “[But] as I was talking to more and more students, the response that I continuously got was ‘That’s awesome, but can you do it at Georgetown too?’”
After learning of students’ and administrators’ desire for a larger mental health program on campus, Nytes decided to focus exclusively on mental health at Georgetown. After discussion with the program’s board of directors, which includes Georgetown students, Nytes opened peer counselor applications for Georgetown students.
Nytes expressed his gratitude to Georgetown’s administrators, students, faculty and alumni for offering to help him hone his ideas for Creating Survivors.
“Creating Survivors would not exist without Georgetown University,” Nytes said. “Creating Survivors is filling a gap that a lot of students have wanted to be filled.”
Gabby Johnson (COL ’18) sees the need for a more supportive, student-led, on-campus counseling option and believes that Creating Survivors will provide an important avenue of therapy for students who may not be comfortable talking to traditional psychotherapists.
“Students may also feel more comfortable talking to other students because they may be able to better relate to someone closer to their own age,” Johnson said. “It’s important to keep the conversation going about mental health.”