Student-designed mental health survey assesses student experiences

Sulan Pathiranage | Contributing Reporter

Junior Joanna Grill partnered with Student Union Senate to create a survey gauging student experiences with mental health services on campus.

After she personally noticed shortcomings with Washington University’s mental health services, Grill sought to bring these flaws to the attention of the administration. She reached out to SU Senate and Title Mine to further publicize the survey and ensure its relevance to the University’s broad swath of demographics.

Nathalie Austin | Student Life

Those behind the survey hope that the University will pour more resources into mental health services on campus as a result of the survey’s findings.

The University has added eight full-time positions to Mental Health Services in the past four years and has made additional strides in the past few years with their Habif Health and Wellness’ “Let’s Talk” initiative. SU launched the Mental Health Fund in 2018 to help fund off-campus mental health care for low-income students, and worked with the University to add a new notation for medical leaves of absence on transcripts.

Smith hopes that the results of the survey will prompt administrators to devote more resources to existing programs on campus.

“There are some resources on campus that are really beneficial to students, but I think there could be more resources, specifically more counseling staff and more availability of appointments to students,” SU Senate Health and Wellness Committee chair sophomore Gaby Smith said. “I think a big issue is wait times at Habif and students struggling to get appointments, which is really devastating to see.”

Grill wants mental health services to have longer and more flexible hours to accommodate the varying schedules that students have.

“When I bring these ideas up, people are like ‘That’s unrealistic,’ but if you look at our peer institutions, nothing is new or monumental,” Grill said.

Since funding is a major obstacle in creating a more comprehensive mental health system, Grill inquired about how best to incentivize Chancellor Andrew Martin to prioritize mental health in a meeting with Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Support and Wellness Kirk Dougher.

“[Dr. Kirk Dougher] was saying that the Chancellor really responds to student anecdotes and research. People don’t like talking about this, and to say ‘I am struggling and then I encountered a problem’ is hard. And it’s already hard to say you’re struggling. I proposed a lot of solutions, and the main point was it aligns with the pillars,” Grill said.

Title Mine, a frequent advocate for improved mental health services, outlined some of their specific desires in a recent meeting with Martin.

Their proposals include improving the University’s student-counselor ratio of 1,100:1, which is higher than the average of 650:1. Title Mine also hopes to diversify the demographics of the University’s counselors. Smith voiced similar sentiments to their proposals.

“The ratio of students to counselors is not low enough for Habif to receive accreditation as a mental health providing facility, so I think that’s one step Wash. U. could definitely be working towards, and that’s something that Title Mine has also been echoing,” Smith said.

Grill doesn’t attribute the University’s subpar mental health offerings to apathy, instead pinning the blame on the logistical challenge of trying to fund boundless student issues with limited money.

“I think everyone cares, it’s just challenging to balance the interests of so many different people and groups. Before making monumental steps, [Martin] needs to make sure everyone is okay with it, but the point I’m trying to make is that it’s bringing the whole school down,” Grill said.

The administration has acknowledged that the existing system has its shortcomings, but that the solutions are difficult and take time.

“It is my strong belief that Chancellor Martin, Dr. White, myself and Dr. Brounk are keenly aware of the path before us and are working diligently to overcome the obstacles,” Dougher wrote in a statement to Student Life. “Implementation and solution finding does require some time to make sure that issues are properly addressed and that there are no unintended consequences to courses selected.”

“The supply and demand problem is a complex issue affecting colleges and universities across the country,” Director of Mental Health Services Dr. Thomas Brounk wrote in a statement to Student Life. “Wash. U. is not unique in trying to address these challenges. If the answers were easy and could be addressed quickly, I know that they would have been.”

Grill emphasized the need for urgency, since students are still constantly in need of more counseling services.

“What I’m hoping to convey is that it’s a ‘now’ thing, not a ‘soon’ thing,” Grill said. “And we really can’t wait for the pillars to materialize and think about it carefully [because] the student body is hurting. I’m a junior, so we can’t wait for something to change in three years, because I will no longer be here.”

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