Staff Editorial: A win for campus mental health

When tragedy strikes, counseling services and other campus support options come more sharply into focus. If those programs are not up to par when students need them most, criticism comes easy.

This time, the University is making progress, but still has more work to do.

Since new University Counseling Center director Silvio Weisner took over last fall, it seems to be moving in a more positive direction. The University has begun to carve out more time in counselors’ schedules to make them available for walk-in appointments. As a result, the number of walk-in appointments has increased by 42 percent this semester.

It is essential to have a walk-in option every day but especially during national crises like the one we endured in the past week. On the surface, the staffing reshuffling may seem minor, but the rewards are huge for students.

Offering students more opportunities for walk-in appointments means that students will no longer have to wait days or weeks see a counselor, and it will ensure that the University is able to accommodate more students than it ever has before.

But this hasn’t always been the case.

In the fall, the Hatchet reported a 40 percent increase in students who scheduled appointments with the UCC. But some students were waiting three to four weeks just to see a counselor. This was problematic because it meant that students couldn’t get the assistance that they urgently needed.

Mental health challenges are pervasive on college campuses. Twenty-seven percent of people between ages 18 to 24 have diagnosable mental health problems, like depression, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

The University’s response to this issue is helping combat the stigma surrounding mental health in this country. And that’s encouraging.

The counseling center has clearly made progress since former director John Dages and associate director Barbara Brown resigned from their posts in the past 18 months after staff members at the UCC complained about their poor leadership styles.

But the University shouldn’t let up in pursuing new ways to improve its counseling services.

The next step is to make sure more professors have some form of psychological training to help fulfill their dual role as teachers and mentors. Professors are the University’s closest link to students. If a student is struggling, professors are most likely to be the first to notice.

GW offers a CARE network, or an opportunity by which administrators, professors and students themselves can submit a students’ name to the UCC if they feel that he or she is experiencing mental or emotional difficulties.

But the resource goes largely unused.

The Hatchet conducted a study of 80 professors about the CARE network last month, and found more than 81 percent of them did not know much about the program or how it worked. The CARE network infrastructure already exists, but professors aren’t given adequate training for it to work effectively.

For this program to benefit students, professors should be trained to recognize the warning signs of depression and anxiety so that they can adequately respond to student needs.

The University cannot mandate that professors approach students when they suspect they are struggling, but it can make mental health resources more easily accessible.

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