Open forum allows student and administrators to discuss mental health issues on campus

October 7, 2015

GUSA held its first Mental Health Open Forum on Oct. 5 to provide students with the opportunity to speak directly to student health administrations on the topics of mental health policies and resources on campus.

The forum, which took place in a town hall format, included a panel that consisted of five administrators involved with student health at Georgetown. The panel members consisted of Dr. Todd Olson, vice president of student affairs, Dr. Phil Meilman, director of Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS), Dr. James Welsh, associate vice president of student health services, Carol Day, director of Health Education Services, and Katie Boin, director of Student Outreach and Support.  

Financial issues, a concern for many students, prompted numerous questions throughout the forum. Student Health Services’ current policy usually requires a fee for ongoing counseling and psychiatric care, which places a burden on students seeking help, especially those who are struggling financially, yet Meilman said, “we don’t want finances to get in the way.”

Financial constraints also make it difficult for many students to receive long-term care, whether from the university or from an outside source. Administrators admitted that currently, there is not a solid plan to make long-term care more affordable to a wide range of students. They did clarify that they are exploring the issue amongst themselves and their superiors.  

Additionally, students brought up the topic of returning to Georgetown after a medical leave of absence. As the Voice reported in November 2014, students in the past have had issues returning to campus after medical leave or with proving that they are mentally ready to handle Georgetown’s environment.

Boin discussed how circumstances vary for each returning student, but administrators try to connect these students with campus resources such as chaplains in residence, or Boin herself. “You’re going to have different experiences … some of that is based on how a student is able to speak to what they need. Sometimes you might not know what you need so you don’t know how to say it,” Boin said, “I think that is a huge gap, but we can do better.”

Administrators elaborated on how mental health resources on campus have improved over the past few years, starting with an increased interconnectedness within the student health services that are already provided. According to Meilman, the student health faculty has become more diverse, and new connections with departments such as academic resources and athletics have grown as well.

Furthermore, Boin mentioned how care has expanded to more than just a few short sessions on campus.  

“One of our wins has been making connections with other entities outside of the healthcare providers on campus. Expanding the sense of care to be holistic, to be comprehensive, to work with academic units, because what we know about people who need help is that linking them to services might not be one conversation … It is a series of conversations about comfort, about safety, about familiarity and that happens with trusted individuals who often are outside of the counseling center,” she said.

Ben Johnson (NHS ’17), GUSA’s undersecretary of mental health, was influenced in creating this forum by a sexual assault forum held last year. Johnson said, “The sexual assault forum was really inspiring … I thought it was unique to have a town hall format where students could put questions directly to the administration, because the administrators can sometimes be these nondescript, non-distinct forces that seem to control major departments.”

While the discussion is just beginning, mental health is becoming a more popular issue at Georgetown and universities across the country, according to Johnson.  “I think this [forum] is a good sign that it is starting to come to the forefront, but it is definitely pushed by the students,” he said. “It is a student agenda … Mental health deserves its moment.”

Read More

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments