Creating a New ‘Mental Health’

A university is meant to foster innovative ideas and social progress, but at the end of the day, it is also a business. Even a campus full of Albert Einsteins and Marie Curies will shut its gates if it finds itself unable to pay the bills. Like any institution, a university has competing priorities that it must weigh.

Anyone who has taken a marketing class knows the aphorism “sex sells.” A gleaming new football stadium is sexy. A public policy graduate program is sexy. A new student center is sexy.

Mental health is not sexy. The NCAA does not give a gleaming award to the university with the fewest students suffering from mental illness. The issue does not lend itself to “brochure-ification” the same way Georgetown’s nationwide international relations ranking or a thriving a capella scene can. All too often, mental health is measured in the “negative.”

How many students reported feeling depressed? How many students took their own lives?

This means that mental health often cannot generate attention in the absence of a crisis. So often we hear about college mental health in the context of a school shooting or the loss of a life to suicide. Having narrowly avoided our own crisis after a sophomore made ricin in his McCarthy Hall dorm room just two years ago, how can we preclude future tragedy with meaningful reform?

Luckily, we are not starting from scratch. Georgetown administrators have confirmed that the campus discussion surrounding mental health has reached their desks. Georgetown University Student Association candidates who made Counseling and Psychiatric Services reform a central pillar of their platform deserve credit for this. Students who have written op-eds about their experiences deserve credit for this. Allies who saw their friends suffer from long wait times or unaffordable care at Georgetown facilities and said, “Enough is enough” deserve credit for this.

Moving forward, it will be instrumental to continue to press the administration to take steps toward reform. The less sexy the issue, the more devoted its advocates must be to maintain attention upon that issue. This semester, I worked alongside fellow mental health advocates to compile a list of comparable university statistics by interviewing relative staff at Georgetown and 19 peer institutions to demonstrate the dismal state of Georgetown’s mental health offerings. When we met with the administration, we came bearing bad news: Georgetown ranks dead last in the number of free sessions offered and affordability of care, and in the worst quintile for specialist-to-student ratio.

Further student work will be needed to achieve meaningful reform. This means compiling anecdotes of people who did not receive the care they deserved. This means finding examples of what works at other schools and trying to bring “best practices” to Georgetown. This means a constant struggle for advocates — to be respectful of the administration, to understand their variegated priorities, but to also remain firm in the conviction that this is an issue that must not wait. More than anything, we must show the urgency of reform. This past year CAPS saw 1,772 Georgetown students, confirming that mental health issues deserve the same amount of attention and resources as stereotypically “sexy” programs.

It is time to put mental health at the top of the Office of Advancement’s priorities list.

By channeling campus-wide discourse in such a way that demonstrates CAPS’ shortcomings and makes its improvement an essential priority. We need to move beyond appearing “sexy” — as a campus, we’ve got that down. Now let’s care for the whole person.

 

Scott Goldstein is a senior in the School of Foreign Service.

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One Comment

  1. It might be helpful to take a step back here and ask: what is the responsibility of any university, Georgetown or otherwise, in this regard? And what is the best and most efficient use of resources?

    It seems prudent that a University offer some level of mental health services, much as it should offer some level of basic physical health services. There is not an expectation, however, that the student health center will fulfill every possible medical need. We are fortunate to have a major hospital right next door on our campus that can address many of those needs. In other cases, students may need to take advantage of one of the many other medical centers nearby.

    On the other hand, we do not have a dentist’s office on campus, even though dental care is a key requirement of good health. We accept that students requiring dental care will be able to obtain it at one of the many dental offices in the immediate area.

    So that brings us to mental health. Is it reasonable to expect that CAPS should fill the full mental health needs of every undergraduate, particularly when – like dentists – there are large numbers of off-campus providers located nearby?

    For clinical needs, the hospital does include a psychiatric practice, which is fortunate. But many universities do not have hospitals next door. Conversely, many colleges are located in rural areas, where off-campus mental or even dental health providers may be in short supply. In those instances, it may well be that the most effective arrangement is to have the university operate full-service facilities to meet all student needs. But with Georgetown being located in the core of a major metropolitan area, I think it’s worth asking what the expected level of service from CAPS should be and what is the most efficient and effective use of limited resources.

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