EDITORIAL: Extend Mental Health Services

The Hoya Editorial Board

Originally published in The Hoya, February 2, 2018

Despite Georgetown University’s Wednesday decision to partially subsidize the care of low-income students, the mental health care options provided to students are still frustratingly inadequate. In addition to funding short-term coverage, Georgetown must seek solutions for the long-term mental health care challenges of its students.

After months of delay and uncertainty, Georgetown’s administration allocated $10,000 to a pilot program that will subsidize off-campus mental health care for students with demonstrated financial need who are covered by Georgetown’s student health insurance plan, according to university spokeswoman Rachel Pugh.

In November 2017, the Georgetown University Student Association’s mental health policy coalition asked the university to allocate $40,000 to fund such a pilot program. University President John J. DeGioia and Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson “committed to allocating resources to the goal of making student health care more affordable,” but made no financial commitment at the time.

In the months between Georgetown’s stated commitment and the administration’s decision to commit funding, the burden was placed on students to crowdsource their own mental health. GUSA’s mental health coalition set up a fund on SaxaFund, a fundraising tool for student initiatives run by Georgetown students and alumni, to raise contributions for a similar program. SaxaFund, founded in March 2017, aims to use student and alumni donations to crowdfund nonessential student initiatives ; projects from this semester include the Leavey Beergarden and Hilltop Compost.

Although Georgetown’s agreement to comply with one-fourth of the initial request is a step in the right direction, the intervening process reveals the administration’s apprehensive approach to providing comprehensive short- and long-term mental health care for students.

Counseling and Psychiatric Services, the most accessible provider of mental health care for undergraduates on campus, is structured to exclusively provide short-term individualized care to patients, who have access to care for up to two semesters. After this period, CAPS offers students referrals to an off-campus resource if further treatment is required.

CAPS offers on-campus group therapy at low costs, along with other necessary services, but a dearth of resources makes the organization simply unable to keep up with the demand of Georgetown students in need of help.

In fall 2016, CAPS cut therapy costs by 89 percent and psychiatric costs by 80 percent; a new staff psychologist and case manager were hired to help the bear the load. Despite this slight expansion, CAPS remains unequipped to address the community’s needs, according to a Mental Health Advisory Board report in October 2016.

Georgetown is failing to meet the mental health needs of its students. The university must re-evaluate the services it provides, keeping an open mind toward large-scale changes.

The University of Michigan recently added four new mental health counselors using the “embedded” model, in which counselors’ offices are placed in classroom buildings to make them more accessible to students. A similar program at Georgetown would prove a clear commitment to the well-being of students. The program would need to be scaled down to accommodate Georgetown’s smaller size, but further integrating mental health professionals with the campus is an investment worth making.

The Jesuit value of cura personalis, or care of the whole person, is foundational to Georgetown’s identity. In outlining the practical application of this principle, Campus Ministry suggests“individualized attention to the needs of each student.” To satisfy its own expectations, Georgetown must develop the resources necessary for the long term mental health care of its students.