To improve mental health culture, look to entire community

An advocacy group is working to change the way college campuses view mental health services – and GW needs to take note.

The Jed Foundation, geared toward eliminating suicide among college students, argues that the best mental health programs on college campuses are those that have a holistic focus.

To that end, the foundation released a list of schools Tuesday that take the leap from offering efficient counseling services to creating whole campuses where positive mental health is a major focus. Schools who hope to make the grade have had to prove that their information on mental health is readily accessible online for students, and that policies exist on how potential leaves of absence will affect financial aid or academic standing.

These details have nothing to do with hiring more counselors. But they have tangible benefits for college students in need of help.

So far, only 30 schools have received the seal of approval from the Jed Foundation. GW is not on the list. But because these schools include our competitors like New York, Boston, Tulane, Emory and Georgetown universities, GW administrators should have an interest in upping the ante.

The University offers sound counseling services. And it’s laudable that, after serious administrative turmoil and disorganization, administrators have taken concrete steps to turn things at the UCC around.

A new counseling director. Six free counseling sessions. A budget increase of $150,000. Therapists who specialize in care for veterans and international students.

Over the past year and half, the University Counseling Center has undergone a series of changes – all of which bode well for students.

But changes to GW’s mental health offerings have been relegated to the UCC, still blocks off campus, and hasn’t yet integrated into the broader University.

Unaddressed problems still linger. And because of holes in GW’s policy, students are still at risk.

When new professors join the University’s payroll, they aren’t required to go through mental health training. They aren’t formally taught the warning signs of serious issues like depression and anxiety. Students face struggles each day which could affect their academic success and their mental well-being.

But professors – the University employees with which students spend the most time – aren’t always equipped to help.

GW has a CARE Network, where students, faculty and staff can report individuals that they believe to be at risk. But this system can’t work if people don’t have knowledge of the warning signs.

We don’t deserve a pat on the back until we realize that mental illness doesn’t go away after an hour appointment at the counselor’s office is over. For many students, emotional strife is a permanent liability. And the burden is on all of us – not just UCC Director Silvio Weisner – to mitigate its effects.

The writer, a junior majoring in political communication, is The Hatchet’s opinions editor. 

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