Wash. U. needs to increase access to mental health care

Tyler Sabloff | Contributing Writer

I started my sophomore year of college came with an immense amount of dread. I worried that, like my freshman year, my mental health issues would dominate my ability to function within a college environment. Unfortunately, I was right. This year has brought similar bouts with the same feelings of depression and anxiety that I felt before. My initial reaction last year, encouraged by a poster in my floor’s common room, was to contact Student Health Services (SHS) for therapy sessions. Now, still dealing with the same issues, contacting SHS for mental health treatment is not even an option. From my experience, SHS’s Mental Health Services are poorly equipped for students in need of long-term help because of SHS’s inability to fulfill a steady stream of appointment requests.

After an initial evaluation by a psychiatrist, I was passed off to one of their on-staff psychologists. From then on, it became a constant struggle week-to-week to make appointments. For a time, I was able to make relatively consistent appoints, having one per week, but not at specific time or on a specific day. As the semester went on, however, I struggled to get appointments consistently, as slots would fill up before I had the opportunity to make an appointment. I was forced to begin going less frequently, with a week or even multiple weeks in between appointments. My last appointment during fall semester was in the first week of December. At this point, I decided to give up on making appointments because, had I chosen to continue, the earliest I could have had another appointment—with the same person I had seen previously—would not have been until early March. The wait time between appointments made it nearly impossible to make any progress.

My point is thus: SHS does not have the capacity to help students with serious and consistent mental health needs, and that’s a big problem. The massive issue of depression and suicide on college campuses across the U.S. is already a well-publicized phenomenon, suggesting that a highly competitive university like Wash. U. should have ample resources for mental health treatment. However, it appears that the University’s ability to cater to those students in need of the most help is severely lacking. Students like myself are left to fight our own for the ability to seek help because access to appointments is so inconsistent. It does not benefit someone who needs counseling to have to struggle to get the help they need; it’s counterproductive and can lead to someone becoming less inclined to reach out.

As to not discount the entirety of Wash. U.’s mental health program, alternative outlets such as Uncle Joe’s and SHS’s newly implemented Therapist Assisted Online do serve to alleviate the need for weekly in-person appointments for some students. Though these programs are more widely accessible, they should not be considered substitutes for seeking more direct help. These programs are designed to cater to students with immediate problems but do not suffice for students in need of consistent and direct treatment. These programs alone do not have the ability to prescribe and administer medications, another integral function of Mental Health Services. Alternative mental health outlets do serve a necessary function, but they should not serve as a sole alternative to in-person help.

SHS provides a very necessary service in providing access to mental health help, but their system of providing these resources to students needs to be fixed. It should not be a fight just to get consistent appointments for those who need them. SHS should work to create a larger staff that can handle the number of students who seek help. I do understand that much of the backlog for appointments is because of missed appointments without cancellation, but SHS should take these numbers into account when looking over the program as whole. If they expect a certain number of missed appointments, they should take that into account when assessing the size of their staff. Someone missing their appointment should not be the limiting factor on another person getting the help they need. If Wash. U. really wants to commit to bettering access to mental health care for students, it should begin by improving access to consistent, professional care.