Recent articles in The Hatchet and The Washington Post have addressed a lawsuit by a former GW student against the University and several individuals within the University. The take-away message of these articles seems to be that students seeking assistance from the University Counseling Center, because they are depressed or may have expressed some suicidal thoughts or behaviors, will be summarily removed from the University. Nothing could be further from the truth. I fear that the misperception created by these stories has caused distressed students to avoid seeking the professional help they need. Let me set the record straight – and reassure you.
At all times, we act in the best interests of our students. The center provides services to hundreds of students each year, including many who arrive with depression (43 percent this past year). The majority of these students continue to live and study at the University while being treated. Additionally, the UCC works with a small number of more seriously at-risk students (3 to 4 percent this past year). The overwhelming majority of these students are able to function successfully in the academic environment and remain enrolled in school.
Each year, a few students need to take a leave of absence in order to get well, often because of circumstances beyond their control. In those cases, we believe that health and safety are more important than remaining in any particular environment. It is our expectation and hope that once their situations have stabilized, these students will return to continue their studies at GW.
GW is not alone in dealing with the complicated issues surrounding the awareness, treatment and prevention of suicide. Since the early 1990s, the number of suicidal students seen by college counseling centers has tripled. In response, the UCC has made a commitment to increasing outreach and prevention efforts. For example, the UCC sponsored a depression screening event in October in which 125 students participated, many of whom were severely depressed and six of whom were suicidal. These students received immediate care, but none of the students had their enrollment compromised or were barred from campus. Additionally, the UCC was one of only 22 counseling centers in the United States selected for participation in the Department of Health and Human Services campus suicide and awareness prevention program. We look forward to using grant funds to expand our services to the University community.
Maintaining students’ confidentiality is of primary importance at The George Washington University. GW is committed to compliance with federal and local laws regarding the confidentiality of mental health, medical and student education records. With respect to the UCC, all of our records and counseling sessions are confidential and are maintained separately from other student records. The UCC does not release confidential student information outside the center without written consent, except in emergency situations where disclosure is permitted by law or when otherwise legally required.
I hope this provides a more complete understanding of the issues, our services and our commitment to GW students. I invite you to visit our Web site at gwired.gwu.edu/counsel for a complete explanation of our services and policies, and, of course, to call UCC at 202-994-5300 if you have additional concerns or questions.
-The writer is the associate director of the University Counseling Center.