Despite recent organizational changes, including new staff and reduced fees for mental health services, Counseling and Psychiatric Services is still not fully equipped to address the demand for mental health support, according to a panel of six university administrators from the Mental Health Advisory Board at the university’s second annual Mental Health Open Forum on Monday evening.
CAPS Director Philip Meilman said further reforms remain necessary to help CAPS catch up with student demand.
“We have hit a ceiling in terms of the amount of service we can deliver,” Meilman said. “We’re running about 10,000 visits per year. With the current staffing, the staffing that we had as of June 30, I don’t know that we can go any higher. We did get some more staff this year, so ideally it will go a little bit higher, but it’s not going to go as high as the demand for services.”
The forum featured Meilman, Student Outreach and Support Director Katie Boin, Assistant Vice President of Student Health Vincent WinklerPrins, Academic Resource Center Director Dr. Jane Holahan and Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson.
Organized by the Georgetown University Student Association Mental Health Policy Team, the panel, which took place in the Healey Family Student Center, built on last year’s forum.
After the forum, where students raised concerns about the cost of mental health services, CAPS introduced a new payment policy reducing fees by 89 percent for follow-up psychological visits and 80 percent for follow-up psychiatric visits at the beginning of the semester.
Meilman said he is proud of the fee reduction and highlighted the process of reaching a decision on the policy change.
“I feel good about the fee reduction,” Meilman said. “This is something we had been cogitating for a long time now, and then finally we made that decision the Monday before classes started.”
Boin said that beyond the fee reduction, changes regarding medical leaves of absence include looping her office into the process, with the aim of smoothing students’ transition back into university life.
“After we changed the procedure this summer, students who are approved to return get an email from me to welcome them back to the university and to ask them what they might need to transition, whether that’s housing, help with ongoing treatment in the area or if they just needed a friendly face,” Boin said.
WinklerPrins said the focus going forward is on expanding services to more students.
“One of the things I would love to find a way to do is try to figure out how to reach everyone,” WinklerPrins said. “Many people are hurting badly for all sorts of reasons. How do we reach every one of those people?”
Holahan said it is important to improve the overall campus climate, highlighting the need for students to prioritize self-care rather than relative academic achievements.
“Be kind to yourself and don’t compare yourself to other people,” Holahan said. “There’s nothing wrong with a B. Quite frankly, I think all of us on this panel would say we don’t remember our GPAs from high school or college. It doesn’t really matter in the big scheme of things. What really matters is being kind to yourself and finding something that makes you happy every day.”
Olson said this shift in culture away from Georgetown’s stereotypical competitiveness needs to start with student leaders
“There’s a choice that every visible student leader has: to narrate franticness or to narrate balance and thoughtfulness,” Olson said. “I think the other piece of this can be just asking people how they’re doing in a little different way, so it’s clear what you’re looking for is actually an answer about how they’re doing and not just, ‘Fine, how are you?’”
Boin emphasized that cultural change within the student body comes from focusing on inclusivity and treating others with civility.
“I see a lot of situations where the consequence to a student’s mental health is related to a feeling of social isolation, and there is a component of someone really truly not being nice to them in a very basic way,” Boin said. “When we encounter others who are socially different from us, I want to challenge our student body to take on an attitude of basic civility. If there was some way in which we could incorporate that into a culture change, I would love it.”
Mental Health Policy Team Chair Sylvia Levy (SFS ’18) said the forum was intended to promote awareness of mental health policies and to clarify recent changes.
“The purpose of the event is to try to engage the student population in a continued discussion about mental health resources and policies on campus,” Levy said. “Given all the changes that have happened over mental health policies, it’s important to make sure the student body is aware of those changes.”