Staff Editorial: A message to the new counseling center director

As the number of students seeking mental health services has increased, many students have been forced to wait weeks to receive assistance. But such lengthy waits put students’ well-being at risk, and that is concerning.

Administrators have acknowledged they have hired a new director for the University Counseling Center, and it is clear that the new leader will have a great deal of work to do to increase faith in the center. Mental health should not be taken lightly, and the long waiting period indicates that the University has not made mental health issues a priority.

While the University has demonstrated some level of commitment to students’ mental health by offering six free counseling sessions, the long wait time at the UCC is a tremendous problem for those who seek assistance.

This year, Student Health Service has also seen a 40 percent increase in psychiatric appointments. In just the first month of the semester, 160 students scheduled appointments – which makes it disconcerting that some students reported they waited several weeks before seeing help.

Nationally, mental health issues have increased by about 10 percent over the last decade, according to a 2011 study from the American Psychological Association.

Mental health is as important as physical health. It is just as integral to a positive student experience, as it impacts every facet of an individual’s life. If you are not well, it can affect everything from success in academics to having a healthy social life. The University should not accept sub par mental health services.

If students are experiencing long wait times for appointments, the counseling center should look to hire more staff. As it stands, the counseling center has five staff psychologists, according to its website. A staffing expansion could make services more accessible for students in need. The cost of providing adequate mental health services should not be a concern – even if it means hiring enough counselors to keep up with demand. It is an expense administrators should unflinchingly meet.

At this transitional time for the UCC, it is imperative that the University address student mental health issues proactively. Interim Director Mark Levine told The Hatchet in a Sept. 24 article that long wait times are “certainly not something that has happened often.” But students reported a wait time of three to four weeks and as long as six weeks.

Students should never have to wait days to see a clinician, let alone weeks.

While the University cannot be expected to be perfect in every regard, caring for students should never take the back burner. The success of the University is at stake if students’ emotional well-being is at risk.

GW has an opportunity to become a national model for other university health services. It should be a place where students feel they can not just grow intellectually, but also feel secure emotionally.

Last fall, internal controversy over poor leadership threatened the success and reputation of the counseling center.

A new director offers a chance to start fresh. The key to student success is strong mental health.

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