The proposed anonymous undergraduate peer-to-peer support network, in conjunction with Counseling and Psychiatric Services, represents a promising step toward mental health reform that students and administrators should endorse.
As the Georgetown University Student Association Executive Mental Health Committee continues talks with the administrators this week in the hope of launching by the end of spring semester, students and organizations must voice their support for comprehensive reform of the existing mental health infrastructure to ensure that the proposal receives clearance and sufficient funding.
The initiative advances a task-sharing model between students and staff that mitigates two key deficiencies in Georgetown’s mental health services: staff shortage and student perception.
An online chat-based service in which Georgetown students can anonymously discuss matters both academic and personal with a trained peer is needed. Rather than replacing the work of CAPS staff, student volunteers can act as reference points, offering active listening to fellow students and, when necessary, referring them to CAPS and other mental health resources.
Currently, CAPS houses eight full-time staff members, equating to a 1:1,035 staff to undergraduate student ratio. As a result, students often wait a week or more to see a CAPS professional. An online peer-to-peer network, by contrast, would connect students to individualized assistance within minutes, simultaneously relieving the increasing workload of CAPS personnel. Although students are not the same as educated professionals, they will be trained to be the step before CAPS.
Perhaps more importantly, peer-to-peer discussion would eliminate certain barriers for students who seek mental health assistance through Georgetown’s current system. Namely, students whose schedules do not fit CAPS’ hours, who feel uncomfortable being emotionally candid with an authority figure or who don’t know if CAPS is the best resource for them would benefit from peer-to-peer support as a supplementary point of contact.
As campus mental health cases increase in number and severity, administrators must make mental health reform a priority. The proposal by GUSA’s Mental Health Committee provides an opportunity to initiate such reform; still, the full potential of a peer-to-peer network cannot be achieved without demonstrated support by the Georgetown community through rallies and petitions.