Sara Brouda: Housing and counseling offices must be able to work together

Residence halls do not need to be home. They are not meant to be permanent and are by no means beautiful or extravagant. But residence hall rooms do need to be comfortable. These rooms should be places where students can unwind after dealing with school, work, extracurricular activities and their social lives. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, and it’s especially unfortunate for students with mental health concerns.

GW has made strides in dealing with mental health over the last several years. Officials have added new programs, such as a discussion series, where students can talk about common problems they face. They have more than doubled their staff and are offering more diverse and personalized services. But the work of Mental Health Services only goes so far outside of the office. The bureaucracy between MHS and other departments often keeps MHS from functioning in the best interest of student patients. As of now, MHS clinicians cannot always contact officials of GW Housing to intervene on behalf of students.

Housing can have a major impact on students’ mental health. In a college residence hall room, everything from roommates to bugs can add unnecessary stress to already stressful lifestyles. GW should allow Mental Health Services to intervene on behalf of the students if their housing situations are directly affecting their mental health.

As a student who has worked with both MHS and GW Housing, I find it frustrating that these two departments can’t work together. Although officials in both offices have the best intentions to help students, bureaucracy keeps them from being effective.

Currently, students who want a housing accommodation must first register with Disability Support Services. But not all mental health concerns work well with this set-up. Mental health issues can appear suddenly and might not be serious enough to qualify for DSS. DSS reviews accommodations for conditions that are considered to be life-threatening, have a set treatment plan and be severe at the time of the application. Even if students think a condition is severe, administrators may not agree and could deny the DSS request, which could could keep those students in negative living situations.

All students who want DSS accommodations must register before the normal housing deadline, according to the GW Housing website. For upperclassmen, that would mean applying for DSS for mental health at least six months before move-in. Mental health does not work on a schedule, so GW needs to be flexible in dealing with those sorts of conditions. Something like anxiety could be sparked by situational factors that come up throughout the year, and staff need to be able to effectively deal with these challenges.

Mental health issues do not have time to work through that kind of bureaucracy. Dealing with this complex system on top of any mental health concern, like one provoked by a personal tragedy, is an unnecessary stressor. If MHS officials were able able to intervene on behalf of the student, it could streamline the process of moving into a safer living environment.

Emil Rodolfa, a professor of professional psychology at Alliant International University, said college living situations can trigger mental health issues.

“There is social psychology data that indicates that students/individuals living in close quarters (i.e. dorms on campus) can experience many stressful triggers,” Rodolfa wrote in an email.

Those situational stressors could be eliminated if these University offices were able to work together directly.

Furthermore, college students are already at the highest risk for mental health disorders. This is true not only biologically but also culturally: College is the time when students are on their own for the first time, dealing with new responsibilities and challenges.

Mental health is different than a physical disability, but it needs to be treated with the same gravity. Mental health issues can affect anyone at any time and can get severe fast. GW needs to have a system in place that allows departments to work with each other – especially GW Housing and MHS – to enable students get the help and support they need.

Sara Brouda, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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