Shwetha Srinivasan: A mission to improve campus mental health should go beyond the UCC

By this time during the spring semester last year, the Mount Vernon Campus’ West Hall community was slowly beginning to recover from the suicides of three residents.

Since then, both GW and the Student Association have ramped up their efforts to spread awareness of mental health issues and boost counseling services on both campuses. The University has added five specialized clinicians since December and recently announced that a portion of next fall’s tuition hike will be used to increase mental health resources. That is hugely reassuring, and it’s great to see our school stepping up to tackle an increasingly important issue.

But as a freshman, I came to campus largely unaware of the incidents that took place last spring. Over the course of my first year on campus, I’ve often thought that GW perhaps directs money toward counseling while other areas that can support mental health indirectly receive less attention – like academic and professional advising, and organizations for marginalized student groups.

This year, the UCC is one of just three departments to receive a funding increase in the face of University-wide budget cuts. While this clearly shows a focus on improving the center, it also indicates a lack of emphasis on improving other offices that impact students’ mental health.

Of course, I’m not discounting the positive impact that counseling has on aiding students who need help. But the University’s decisions surrounding mental health, especially the move to add counseling services to the Vern, seem reactive – aimed at controlling the situation.

It’s time to consider the adoption of a more holistic approach to tackling mental health issues. Whenever possible, GW should try to cast its net wider by directing funds or donations to, for example, the Multicultural Student Services Center and academic advising, both of which play a vital role in shaping and improving the student experience here.

Sure, there are already mechanisms in place on campus to ease some of the pressure on the counseling center and support mental health – like the proposed peer-counseling program, the CARE Network and Health Promotion and Prevention Services. But as we’ve seen recently, the UCC is still backed up by an influx of appointments.

At the end of the day, good overall mental health can come from having a socially inclusive and diverse community. The MSSC plays an important role in making that possible at GW. But the MSSC building is plagued by structural problems, including a collapsing ceiling and a rat infestation.

Though students still use the building, eventually these issues may deter students who want to frequent the MSSC. The student body might be discouraged from making the best use of the center’s resources or going to the many events held there, like lectures and panel discussions. Allocating funds toward this important campus institution could make a big difference in the day-to-day lives of students who use it.

The University could also consider directing its attention to academics by working to resolve some of the problems with advising in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. Even though CCAS is just one school within GW, it’s the biggest school, and solving these problems would help a large segment of the student body.

This should be a priority for the University: It’s essential to offer a strong academic support system for students. When this service fails to provide direction and help, it can impact an entire academic career. GW has an academically competitive atmosphere, and for students with mental health issues like anxiety or depression, a less-than-effective advising resource could make their lives even more difficult.

GW can choose to continue focusing only on its counseling office, or it can branch out and invest resources in system-wide improvements. I hope the University decides to go broad in its efforts.

Shwetha Srinivasan, a freshman majoring in international affairs and economics, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

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