With intense academic demands and rigorous schedules, mental health care is essential for Georgetown University Student Association executive candidates to seriously consider.

Candidates for the 2019 GUSA executive have all listed mental health as a priority of their platforms, but have failed to provide feasible and effective policies to improve services on campus. GUSA candidates must improve their mental health care policies prior to Friday’s election so students can make an informed vote on the topic.

Mental health care is a pressing issue at Georgetown. The university’s primary mental health service on campus, Counseling and Psychiatric Services, offers important group and individual therapy; however, CAPS is a short-term provider and refers students that need longer-term care to off-campus resources.

Despite the lack of adequate mental health care on campus, candidates have not addressed funding and resources for CAPS at any point in their campaigns. This trend is worrying as GUSA has been responsible for propelling roundtable discussions regarding health and stress culture, mental health advisory meetings, and resources allocated to mental health issues. In 2017, for example, GUSA pushed the university to fund a stipend for off-campus mental health services.

This dedication to improving mental health has been lacking in this year’s candidates; all GUSA tickets have failed to provide feasible and necessary policies to improve mental health on campus.

In fact, Nicki Gray’s (NHS ’20) platform has neglected to name any specific initiatives to improve mental health services on campus.  Similarly, Ryan Zuccala (MSB ’20) and John Dolan (MSB ’20)’s platform does not include any specifics about mental health.

Sina Nemazi (COL ’21) and Roya Wolfe (SFS ’21) have highlighted mental health as one of the main issues they want to focus on if elected; still, their proposal to create a meditation center — or in their terms, a “zen den” — on the first floor of Lauinger Library is an inefficient use of resources, as the John Main Meditation Center already fulfills this purpose. Moreover, keeping a physical distance between the place where you work and the place where you relax is essential for a healthy mind set; a “zen den” would therefore not only waste resources, but encourage unhealthy practices.

The strongest and most specific proposal comes from Norman Francis (COL ’20) and Aleida Olvera (COL ’20). Their focus on accessibility includes partnering with the Academic Resource Center to expand accommodations for students with mental health issues.

Francis and Olvera also seek to continue improving the off-campus therapy stipend by working with fundraising efforts on campus to increase resources and advertise the services the stipend provides. Moreover, they plan to increase the opportunities for students to receive access to psychiatric services, yet haven’t specified how they will do this. Even so, their campaign has not mentioned any plans to work with CAPS or other student organizations, such as Project Lighthouse, to improve mental health on campus.

Mental health is important, and GUSA executives can achieve tangible change if they prioritize it, as has been done in the past. Each of the GUSA candidates must better articulate their specific policies so students can track the progress their elected officials are making. However, with candidates’ limited platform policies on mental health, students should not look solely to GUSA officers to enact change.

Students who care about mental health issues on campus can do so by becoming involved with organizations such as Active Minds, Project Lighthouse and the Student Health Advisory Board, all of which all seek to improve the mental well-being of all students and provide resources for stress relief.

If students want to see an increase in resources allocated to mental health, assist students in seeking care and create a community that prioritizes mental health, the best thing they can do elect a candidate who will ask and listen.

Escadar Alemayehu is a freshman in the school of the Nursing and Health Studies. She is the GUSA Mental Health Chair.

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