This article discusses suicide and self-harm. Please refer to the end of the article for resources on and off campus.
Like many Hoyas, Phillip, whose name is changed for privacy, was an overachiever: He was a frequent presence on the Dean’s List and a Capitol Hill intern.
While he projected the image of success to everyone around him, he was battling thoughts that he did not deserve to be here, or even to live. Phillip did what most would — he went to Counseling and Psychiatric Services. There, the therapist asked Phillip to list past instances of self-harm and suicide ideation. Afterward, he asked whether Phillip currently actively had suicidal thoughts. When Phillip responded that he did not, the therapist concluded that he was doing manageably and gave him a list of external providers.
When Phillip returned to his dorm and summoned the courage to call the therapists on the list, he learned that the average cost per session would be between $150 and $300. His insurance company would cover 80% of this cost — but only if he paid $280 out-of-pocket first.
Phillip knew he could never afford these rates. He turned to low-cost and free centers, only to discover the wait for his first appointment was at least nine months long. Yet the thoughts telling him to die would not wait politely for nine months.
With no money and a family that seemed far more concerned about academic achievement and career success than the abstract concept of mental wellness, Phillip had nowhere else to turn.
Thoughts that had begun as quiet whispers became a whirling hurricane impossible to ignore: “You are worthless. You are pointless. You are useless. You should die.”
In an aching tone, Phillip recounts hurrying to rinse blood off his arm and stash his knife beneath the sink, hoping desperately that his roommate wouldn’t catch him in the act. He did not want to know what they would think. He thought they might hate him, pity him or find him terrifying.
Without support and unable to trust anyone around him, Phillip eventually attempted suicide and was hospitalized, which further exacerbated his trauma. What pained Phillip most was the knowledge that, had he been able to find help on his own terms and at a cost he could afford, he might never have spiraled so deeply into crisis.
Unfortunately, Phillip’s experience is neither isolated nor rare. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students nationwide. A 2019 study found that 46.2% of college students reported feeling depressed, 14.4% seriously considered suicide and 9.5% engaged in self-harm this year alone, according to the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment. These numbers have steadily increased over the last several years.
During my time at Georgetown University, I have listened to many students share similar stories. In 2017, I proposed the creation of an off-campus therapy stipend to subsidize the exorbitant cost of off-campus mental health treatment for students with financial difficulties. Because CAPS only provides short-term services like most counseling centers in American colleges, Assistant Vice President for Student Health Vincent WinklerPrins, Director of CAPS Phil Meilman and CAPS Clinical Case Manager Elizabeth Steinmeyer worked tirelessly with me to create the program.
Launching the stipend required me to petition the student body, pass a Georgetown University Student Association senate resolution and meet with various administrators, which resulted in the university committing $10,000 to seed it. The stipend, known today as the Georgetown Student Mental Health Fund, has enabled students with financial difficulties to receive therapy, preventing situations such as Phillip’s from spiraling into severe crises. Moreover, as GUSA vice president last year, I was able to negotiate an additional $10,000 after meeting with University President John. J. DeGioia (CAS ’79, GRD ’95) and the board of directors.
However, the fund is now rapidly depleting. As the fund’s original founder, I am increasingly concerned that students will no longer be able to receive the support that they once did. The professionals at CAPS and Health Education Services truly care about supporting students, but they can only do so much with extremely limited resources.
I now urge you to sign this petition as a statement of support for the fund’s expansion and conversion to a long-term, sustainable endowment of $100,000 that would generate new funds each year, guaranteeing accessible mental health treatment for many more students in years to come.
For far too long, stigma, shame and prejudice have caused students to suffer in silence until they reached a breaking point. Now, more than ever, we as Hoyas need to hear their stories and call on the university to fulfill its commitment to cura personalis and ensure that all students who are struggling and in distress are cared for and supported.
Kenna Chick is a senior in the School of Foreign Service.
Resources: On-campus resources include Health Education Services (202-687-8949); additional off-campus resources include the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255)