GW deserves kudos for its efforts in seeking and securing a $74,000 grant from the Department of Health and Human Services earmarked for suicide prevention. After a tragic string of at least three suicides from 2003 to 2004, University efforts to improve suicide-prevention training and provide adequate resources to the student body have been steady, but minimal. This grant for the underfunded University Counseling Center should go a long way toward improving awareness of the UCC’s available services while expanding those services to include more training for community facilitators and the campus community at large.
Last year, this page argued that the University should consider an aggressive marketing campaign for the UCC to inform students of the counseling services available on campus; that officials should consider creating their own suicide hotline where students contemplating suicide could call and speak with local volunteers about their problems; and that the Community Living and Learning Center should look into providing CFs with the training needed to help increase the likelihood of identifying at-risk students. The Counseling Center has come through on all three suggestions.
Out of all University employees, CFs often have the most significant contact with freshmen and sophomores. Students in these age groups are likely to experience the most problems adjusting to their new lives in the District. Equipping CFs with the tools to recognize symptoms, respond to them and refer students to the center will aid the UCC’s suicide-prevention efforts. CFs, however, should not have been forced into chronicling students’ mental health status in contact logs that, because they could be accessed by other University employees, violated students’ privacy and could’ve exacerbated their problems.
While the center’s nondescript location at 2033 K St. is important for maintaining the anonymity of students seeking treatment, the center’s role on campus needs to become much more visible. To this end, University Counseling Center Director Diane Depalma wants to use some of the federal funds to help market the UCC around campus. Placing colorful and informative signs in public places such as the Marvin Center and Gelman Library will ensure that at-risk students will be faced with constant reminders of ways to help themselves.
An aggressive marketing campaign for the UCC, however, cannot be the end goal. Getting students to the Counseling Center is only the first step. Many students find that there are not sufficiently served when they visit the counseling center. This summer, the Washington City Paper ran an article outlining one student’s negative experience after turning to the center because of feelings of depression.
Additional funds do not guarantee an improvement in the quality of service at the center. Fostering the perception that the UCC is a place that all students can turn to in times of crisis is a more intangible goal for the center, but definitely one that is attainable.
Even as the suicides of the past few years begin to fade in the collective conscience of the GW community, the pain endured on those fateful days remains in the hearts of many. It is imperative that these federal funds are spent in a responsible manner to ensure the University is doing everything possible to prevent another student suicide from adorning the front pages of The Hatchet.