SHS invites students to ask questions, voice complaints in front of panel

Student Health Services and Residential Life officials gathered in Tisch Commons to field questions and complaints from students regarding mental health services at SHS Thursday night.

The panel aimed to both reduce the stigma about mental health and clarify logistical questions students have about mental health services. The panel was hosted by Washington University’s To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) chapter, which is a part of the larger national non-profit organization that aims to support those struggling with mental health issues along with a source of treatment and recovery efforts.

An online survey about mental health services conducted by TWLOHA received more than 240 responses. These responses revealed that only 64 percent of respondents felt comfortable going to SHS for counseling and that 97.9 percent of respondents said that they or someone they knew struggled with anxiety or depression and offered a variety of questions for the panelists.

Senior Lauren Wachenfeld, vice president external of TWLOHA, said the impetus for the panel was confusion among students about the services SHS offered and its capabilities.

Panelists, who included Director of Mental Health Services Tom Brounk, Assistant Director of Mental Health Services Jen Self, Liggett/Koenig Residential College Director Kayla Kromer and staff psychiatrist Eleatha Surratt, began with their own brief introductions, after which panel moderators began asking questions fielded from the aforementioned online survey.

An early question inquired about the levels of stress Washington University students are exposed to. In response, Kromer expressed her personal experience dealing with WU students and the challenges that come with such a stressed demographic.

“Bright students are used to figuring out the tough math problem, the difficult science lab, whatever,” Kromer said. “And it seems reasonable that, ‘Well I ought to be able to figure out why I’m feeling this way and how to get better.’”

Brounk expressed similar sentiments, further claiming such hesitancy to seek help is not unique to Washington University.

“We cannot do this alone,” Brounk said. “This has to be a community-wide effort, a University-wide effort from top down and I know as I mentioned earlier the whole issue of student resilience on a national level is being discussed by university administrators.”

Later questions targeted SHS wait times, intake procedures, services provided and patient-counselor fit.

Wachenfeld said that these questions revealed a widespread misconception about SHS and its mental health services.

“I think that [misconception] definitely spread through people not having their own experience as people who are hearing that from one person who had a really bad experience and then taking that along with them,” Wachenfeld said. “So that’s why we wanted them here,”

Senior Chelsea Birchmier had both praise and criticism for the panel, saying that it helped make information about campus mental health services more accessible, but she had hoped for more thorough responses.

“The panel provided a unique opportunity for students to interact with SHS and Res Life representatives and to get their questions answered…[However] some of the panelists’ responses left me wanting more information. I also wish there had been more focus on the handling of mental health crises.” Birchmier said.

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Alex SiegmanComment