The mental health crisis among America’s youth has gone from bad to worse: a recent CDC survey reported that nearly half of high school students felt persistently sad or hopeless in 2021. To address this issue, ACTNow for Mental Health (ANMH), a nonprofit providing no-cost mental health services to young adults in the DMV, is raising awareness about mental health in young people.
At a Feb. 22 event hosted by Georgetown Active Minds, a club that promotes dialogue about student mental health issues, ANMH leadership came to campus to discuss ways to tackle mental health stigma on college campuses.
The organization’s co-founder, Tom Koutsoumpas III, and associate director of clinical services Kat Tinkham called attention to the lack of affordable, long-term treatment available to young people, who constitute ANMH’s target demographic. In particular, Koutsoumpas and Tinkham remarked that it is common for college students to get discouraged when seeking treatment because university mental health programs tend to be overbooked and limited in the scope of their services.
ANMH has committed to meeting this need by offering free telehealth therapy sessions to young adults ages 17-32 living in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C.
Koutsoumpas said he hopes that by eliminating the cost of therapy, ANMH can make it easier for students to take care of their mental health.
“You shouldn’t stress about seeking help for your stress,” Koutsoumpas said at the event.
The belief that everyone should have access to therapy in a stigma-free environment led Koutsoumpas to launch ANMH in 2019. Today, the organization partners with local colleges to treat students whose needs are not met by university services and who cannot afford typically high out-of-pocket costs for therapy.
In providing therapy for university students, ANMH addresses challenges like living away from home for the first time, academic pressure, social isolation, relationships, and financial anxiety, stressors that are familiar to many students at Georgetown.
Tinkham acknowledged that college is a time of transition and growth, during which students may need continual mental health support.
“The most changes happen between 18 and 24,” Tinkham said at the event.
She described ANMH’s treatment model as an investment in the long-term mental health of their patients, designed to help young people adjust to adulthood.
“It’s kind of preventative so that once you launch into your careers, after undergrad and grad school, you have some skills in your toolbox to manage those ups and downs,” Tinkham said.
At Georgetown, Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) offers individual services that focus instead on short-term, goal-oriented care. CAPS relies primarily on a brief treatment model to address specific concerns, referring students to off-campus providers when counselors decide long-term treatment is necessary.
“The vast majority of college counseling centers provide short-term individual therapy and a number of clinical and nonclinical group therapy services to address student mental health and wellness issues, but long-term care is not usually provided at university counseling centers,” a university spokesperson told the Hoya, on behalf of CAPS.
If Georgetown students seek regular, on-demand mental health support, they can turn instead to HoyaWell, a free virtual counseling service that Georgetown offers through the third-party provider TimelyCare, as a supplement to CAPS.
Preeti Kota (CAS ’24), president of Georgetown Active Minds, said hustle culture and social stigma might make it difficult for students to utilize available mental health resources.
“I don’t think people really prioritize it here. They’re focused on academics or getting into competitive clubs,” Kota said at the event.
AMNH hopes to grow their patient base by offering services free of charge, which is possible because the organization recruits providers on a volunteer basis. However, Tinkham said that ANMH has received less interest than expected despite removing the financial barrier, perhaps due to a perceived lower level of experience among providers.
“Some people get turned off by the fact that over half of our providers are second-year clinical interns,” Tinkham said at the event. “If there is a really acute case, like somebody really struggling with suicidal ideation or a severe substance use issue, we also do case management,” Tinkham added, clarifying that ANMH providers guide patients to more experienced clinicians when appropriate.
In the future, ANMH hopes to expand their services to other states, hire more mental health providers and increase their presence on college campuses.
“It’s a battle, but we’re happy to do it,” Koutsoumpas said at the event. “We want to serve the community the best we can.”
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