It’s hard for college students to make the decision to seek help for mental health problems. But it’s even more frustrating when adequate help is hard to attain. Students suffer from great amounts of stress resulting from challenging classes, demanding social lives and homesickness, which can lead to mental illnesses like anxiety and depression. And I can attest to this from personal experience.
During my freshman year, like many other students, I dealt with homesickness and stress from keeping up with my heavy workload and trying to make new friends. I sought help from mental health counselors in the Colonial Health Center several times, only to walk away sometimes feeling even worse. I met with two counselors separately. The first counselor – whom I met with twice – offered up possible solutions to decrease my stress. But the suggestions didn’t help. Then I tried contacting outside psychologists in the area for three months and struggled to hear back from them. Ultimately, I met with a second counselor at the CHC not only to seek more effective counseling, but also to receive referrals to responsive outside professionals. Unfortunately, the advice the second counselor gave me – to write in a journal and practice meditation exercises – didn’t help me see differently, and I felt as though nothing could help me feel at home at GW.
The immense difficulty I had contacting psychologists was unacceptable.
Other students shouldn’t have to feel the way I did. Psychologists need to make it easier for students to contact them, and they must be able to either accept more patients in a timely manner or provide referrals to other practicing professionals that are accepting new patients. In addition, the CHC should provide more information than is currently available regarding its own services such as specific counselors and their qualifications as well as offer more referrals to available outside counselors so stressed students can get the help they need.
The CHC does provide students with mental health services such as one-on-one counseling, mental health panels and a 24-hour hotline. It also recently doubled the size of its staff. But the center has faced scrutiny in recent years. Students previously complained that the former University Counseling Center had long wait times and, additionally, the previous director of Mental Health Services was found to not be licensed to practice in D.C. From my experience, I found that the CHC is also still lacking when it comes to offering qualified counselors and reliable referrals to outside professionals.
While the CHC proved helpful in quickly providing me a list of about 10 psychologists in the area who were supposedly known to respond quickly to college students, I still struggled to get in touch with the professionals the center recommended. Even the few psychologists who did get back to me weren’t able to take on new patients and failed to answer my questions regarding if and when they’d be able to see me. Instead, they wished me “good luck” in finding someone else. After four months of calling and emailing psychologists in the area with little results, I finally found someone from the CHC’s list of referrals who was willing to see me. And after just one session, I felt as though her suggestions and solutions helped me see more clearly.
The immense difficulty I had contacting psychologists was unacceptable. The American Psychological Association found that between 2010 and 2015, college campuses nationwide saw a 30 percent increase in students looking to their counseling centers for help. Back in 2014, three students committed suicide, which illustrated how pertinent of an issue mental health is on campus, and how it must be addressed to prevent more tragedies.
While I have personally struggled with stress and homesickness, there are undoubtedly students on campus who are dealing with other issues that could greatly affect their physical and mental health. If they are unable to gain the proper access to mental health professionals in a timely manner, their overall health could be significantly compromised. In addition, the long process of just trying to find a psychologist can make students feel more hopeless and less likely to follow through with seeking professional help. Calling one psychologist after another with little to no response only discouraged me from reaching out.
The CHC must provide more counselors who know how to work one-on-one with students.
The solution to this overall lack of response from psychologists to struggling students is two-pronged. It requires both the CHC and outside psychologists to better support students. Mental health professionals in the DMV area that cater to students need to do a better job of not only responding within five days to college students but also providing clear answers to questions about their services and when they can take on new patients. They should also be able to provide other pertinent information about who their services cater to, such as the age range of patients they work with and the mental illnesses they typically treat patients for. If psychologists can’t accept new patients within a timely window, they should provide referrals to other psychologists rather than just wishing students good luck. The CHC must also not give out a list of professionals who aren’t available for students.
Additionally, the CHC should do more to help students. The CHC must provide more counselors who know how to work one-on-one with students, which some counselors seem to not be able to do well – from my experiences there. Counselors should also be able to provide more solutions and suggestions that will effectively guide students in overcoming their mental health problems. The center is still looking for a new leader after former director Glenn Egelman abruptly and cryptically resigned this past September. The CHC must now search for someone who prioritizes the importance of putting students’ mental health above all else. Additionally, the CHC should help more students by referring them to specific outside psychologists whom the CHC has vetted and verified as psychologists who respond to students and have the availability to take on new patients.
Because of the heavy pressures of college, it’s imperative that students feel they not only have adequate access to mental health professionals, but are also easily able to find help on their college campuses.
Christina DeBartolomeo, a sophomore majoring in journalism, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
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