Unfounded criticism of Mental Health Services prevents students from seeking help

Updated: May 26, 2017 at 10:54 a.m.

People complain about many parts of GW: the bureaucracy, the lack of individual attention from the administration and the feeling that you’re just a customer, not a student. Among all these issues, justified or not, students regularly complain about Mental Health Services.

Constructive criticism of GW is important because it can lead to improvement. Student complaints can force the University to adjust their ways to meet the needs of the changing student body. But there is a right and wrong way to make these criticisms.

When it comes to criticizing MHS, sometimes students take their criticisms too far. Students often bond over poking fun at the administration, but joking about MHS has real implications. Though there are legitimate complaints about MHS, often these criticisms, which commonly come up in conversation and social media, are generalized critical statements and not about specific issues. Students should stop making broad sweeping criticisms that can hurt MHS’ perception among the student body. This criticism shouldn’t stop students from going to get the help they need – though it often can.

Health services are an essential part of a university. Students at college are living alone for the first time and they need an easy way to have all their medical needs addressed. The age bracket of 14 to 24 is also when mental health issues commonly develop, and it’s imperative to have resources to help address these issues when they start.

Most complaints about MHS are sweeping generalities and assumptions that just say the services are bad without any specific suggestions for improvement. With all the broad and unfounded criticisms, students may feel it won’t be helpful or worth their time to go to MHS, even if they have a serious condition that requires professional help.

Others complain that MHS simply didn’t help them with their specific issue and wasted their time with little improvement to show. But it isn’t that simple. Most issues cannot be resolved with just one visit to the center, and if students don’t use the services regularly or ignore the guidance given to them, then that isn’t the fault of the counselors. For students who regularly seek help from MHS, it can help them feel significantly better.

But there are some fair critiques. Many students, including many of the candidates in this year’s and past year’s Student Association elections, have complained about the fees of MHS after using their six free sessions, which often aren’t enough. This is a fair criticism, as some peer schools don’t charge, like New York University, or have smaller fees for similar services, like Georgetown University. But it’s still often significantly cheaper than outside services.

When students don’t seek out mental health resources on campus, they’re even less likely to take the initiative and look off campus. This is particularly an issue for students who don’t have the means to pay for expensive outside therapy sessions – which often run around $65 to $250 each.

There’s already so much stigma around mental illness that it can be hard to feel motivated to go to MHS. Mental health can affect all aspects of a student’s life, especially their academics. This problem becomes a significant issue when they feel that MHS can’t help, which is by no means true.

This has been a rough year for me personally, and MHS has helped me since last October. Going to MHS every week has been a major part of my sophomore year, and using their services has illuminated many of MHS’ benefits and shortfalls.

When I walked into the Colonial Health Center for the first time to get to MHS, I walked down the stairs to the waiting room and turned right back around and walked out. I needed help, but I was paralyzed with fear of how I would be perceived and whether it would be worth my time. The negative perception of MHS on campus definitely played a role in this mindset.

Today, I am in a better place. I credit a lot of my personal development this year to the help I received from MHS. I feel significantly healthier and happier because of their guidance. From this experience I realized that much of the criticism I have heard was truly unwarranted, and came from a negative campus perception of MHS.

But the center has faced issues, like when the director of MHS stepped down after the University learned he wasn’t licensed to practice as a psychologist in D.C. However, the Colonial Health Center now has a new dean who is working to improve the center by reaching out to more students. Last year, MHS doubled their staff, and they have many counselors who specialize in different areas, so if one doesn’t help, you can switch. The center also offers group therapy so you can feel supported amongst your peers.

Though there are certainly very legitimate complaints about health services on campus and serious issues that need to be improved, MHS still provides useful services and is worth it for many students who need the help.

So the next time you consider criticizing MHS, think about the implications. Making broad, general and nonspecific claims with no path to improvement can hurt the student body by making them hesitant to use their services. Instead, make specific criticisms that could lead to improvement, which would help the University and the students who desperately need the services.

If you need any of the services provided by MHS, never hesitate to go. Taking care of your physical and mental wellbeing is of the utmost importance. Students shouldn’t be scared or worried about going to MHS — the services are there to help you, and you could leave in a better condition and more mentally ready to handle college life.

Sara Brouda, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

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