GW should hire more male MHS clinicians

Some say college should be the best four years of your life. But sometimes new stressors that come with college life – like making new friends and attending classes – make students more at risk for mental health conditions.

Approximately one in five college students has a mental health condition. More alarmingly, only one-third of students dealing with mental health conditions seek treatment. To encourage students of both genders to seek out help, colleges should ensure that students are able to choose from an equal number of male and female mental health clinicians.

At GW, the number of female mental health clinicians greatly outnumbers male mental health professionals. According to Mental Health Services’ staff directory, there are only two male MHS clinicians out of nearly 15 total. This unequal representation may deter some students – particularly male students – from seeking help.

Gender often relates to societal status and how comfortable people are seeking help. Mental health providers should be cognizant of gender disparities in order to incorporate effective and specialized mental health treatment that can improve quality of life for individuals of all backgrounds, including disproportionately burdened college students.

Because mental conditions are erroneously associated with weakness or failure, men sometimes disregard symptoms and thus do not pursue treatment. Instead, they are more likely to mitigate emotional distress by drinking alcohol excessively, which is especially common on college campuses. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to identify symptoms of mental health conditions. They also markedly utilize mental health services more frequently than men.

Acknowledging these disparities and incorporating treatments that better suit each gender’s mental needs may be key to recovery. For instance, focusing treatment on coping skills for women can help minimize patterns of negative thinking. Treatment for men could include teaching and encouraging them to express their emotions without fear of demasculinization.

While ensuring equal representation of mental health providers may seem like an overly simplistic measure, it has the potential to make previously underrepresented individuals more inclined to seek professional help. For example, a man may feel that only a male psychologist will be able to empathize with his feelings of aggression or pride.

As a psychology major and public health minor, I have learned in many of my courses that health-seeking behavior can be influenced by many factors. It is human nature to have preferences, and thus something as seemingly simple as provider gender can be the determining factor of whether or not an individual seeks care.

I didn’t entirely believe this theory until I saw one of my friends go through the process of finding a psychologist. Because of the nature of her problem, she wished to see a female counselor, as she felt a female would better understand her position. But at her university there were no available appointments with any female psychologists, so she chose to wait. She was eventually able to speak with a female clinician, and she was reassured when her counselor spoke of a similar experience.

Although few schools have found ways to equalize the gender among mental health clinicians, three of GW’s peer schools have made headway. Nearby at Georgetown University, there are a greater number of male providers as compared to GW, but they still account for less than 50 percent of the mental health staff. Similar patterns of fewer male mental health professionals are seen at schools such as New York and Boston universities. Despite the similar patterns, these universities still outrank GW in their ratios of male to female mental health clinicians.

Students deserve the best possible mental health treatment while attending college. Moreover, they should be able seek help from professionals they feel will best understand them – and that might start with gender.

Sarah Abdelkahlek, a junior majoring in psychology, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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