Created by the Georgetown University Student Association Mental Health and supported by the Georgetown University Student Association, Health Education Services and Georgetown’s Counseling and Psychiatric Services, Project Lighthouse is a student-led initiative aiming to catalyze change in how the student body perceives mental health issues on campus. Project Lighthouse is an anonymous online chat service that allows Georgetown students to communicate with their peers about any problems or concerns they might be dealing with, from academic stress to thoughts of self-harm. Many students have cited disappointment with university policies regarding mental health and lackluster services from CAPS. This initiative is one of many examples of students renewed focus and growing conversation about mental health at Georgetown.
Research cited by the Cornell Chronicle demonstrates that students who feel anxious or depressed are far more likely to turn to their peers than to mental health professionals for help. Project Lighthouse thus presents a promising forum for students to find support from fellow student volunteers who have been trained to respond to mental health concerns. The anonymity of a chat service can be less intimidating than an official appointment with a clinician, and the accommodating 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. hours allow for greater accessibility. In that sense, Project Lighthouse serves as a good intermediary service and first step for students who might not necessarily feel the need to speak to a medical professional, but who could significantly benefit from having someone to talk to.
While Project Lighthouse has the potential to be a wonderful service, Georgetown must make sure that peer counseling and student-led projects do not become a substitute for broader university-led reforms regarding mental health. For example, Empathy, Assistance & Referral Services, a similar peer-support program at Cornell University, implemented a permanent $1 million budget increase for Cornell’s Health Services and the hiring of new counselors in conjunction to their online program. Similarly, the Georgetown administration must support student mental health initiatives with more than just words. Assisting with long-term goals for the program, such as the establishment of a permanent office space for Project Lighthouse volunteers, is an important way in which the university can demonstrate its commitment to support students struggling with their mental health. The establishment of Project Lighthouse should be seen as the beginning, not the end, of the conversation.