The Georgetown University Student Association Committee on Mental Health hosted a panel discussion with administrators Monday in the Healey Family Student Center to address student concerns about mental health policy after an academic year marked by a spike in student visits to Counseling and Psychiatric Services.
Last year, CAPS received an unprecedented 11,472 visits from 1,772 students, including 39 cases of psychiatric hospitalization. The forum raised students’ concerns ranging from the cost of counseling services, CAPS’ limited hours of operation and the university’s responsibility in helping students returning from medical leave.
The forum featured administrators involved in mental health services on campus, such as Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson, CAPS Director Philip Meilman, Student Health Services Associate Vice President James Welsh, Health Education Services Director Carol Day and Student Outreach and Support Director Katie Boin.
GUSA Undersecretary of Mental Health Ben Johnson (NHS ’17) began the event by discussing how mental health on college campuses has become a hot topic in recent years, resulting in the need for more dialogue.
“Mental health is something which has taken an increasing role in all of our minds as an increasing area of activism and concern and excitement on campus. I think that this is a great forum. I am so excited to have everyone here and get this conversation started,” Johnson said.
The panelists then reported on recent developments in their departments in regards to mental health.
“We have seen an escalating client caseload,” Meilman said.
In the question-and-answer session, students asked administrators about the cost of psychiatric counseling and the possibility of offering unlimited free counseling. Currently, CAPS covers group counseling and the cost of a first psychiatric visit.
Olson said that while there have been previous proposals for free psychiatric counseling, the administration does not have a plan to implement the proposal due to financial constraints.
However, Olson stressed that the administration understands the need and will continue to pursue a solution.
“We are taking seriously the request that we have heard, and we will actively explore that this year,” Olson said.
The panel then addressed concerns that the hours of operation for counseling services may make it difficult to schedule appointments around class schedules. Currently, CAPS is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
In response, both Meilman and Day said that they accommodate students who cannot meet during the day.
“Even though it is published as daytime, we often have evening appointments,” Day said.
Scott Dennis (COL ’17), an attendee of the forum, then asked the panel why the university does not publicize statistics from the 2012 American College Health Association National College health assessment survey on Georgetown to students. Results from the survey are partially available on the Student Health Services website.
Boin said that using statistics specifically about Georgetown could potentially have a negative impact on the mental health of students.
“One of the consequences … is that it really brings people to the place where they start to wonder, ‘Is everyone suffering? What is the meaning of this suffering? Why are we all having such a hard time?’” Boin said.
Following Boin’s response, Dennis argued that the university needs to collect concrete data on students’ mental health in order to take action.
“Georgetown very much needs a wakeup call and needs to understand that the stress culture is very real on this campus, and anxiety is a very real problem on this campus, that loneliness and depression are very big issues,” Dennis said.
To close the forum, students and administrators discussed the subject of helping students return from medical leave. Students cited concerns that the university may not be doing enough to work out how students can transition from medical leave to routine academic life most effectively.
Welsh said that the university is dedicated to communicating with students who have taken medical leave and is involved in the process of deciding whether they are fully ready to rejoin the university again.
“We have committed to two things. Number one, to engage with students that have been on a medical leave of absence and identifying those students and getting them to participate,” Welsh said.
Boin also said that there have been numerous improvements in outreach and assisting students with adjusting back to academic life over the past few years.
“I think that one of the things we have done in three years is create good relationships in the dean’s office with the most caring individuals in those units,” Boin said.
GUSA Chief of Staff Abbey McNaughton (COL ’16) said that the event was a productive forum for students to share their concerns about mental health with administrators.
“It’s good to have a lot of the issues on the table and have students express their concerns and frustrations with the way that some of the policies are implemented,” McNaughton said.