When American University announced that the Counseling Center and the Health Promotion and Advocacy Center would merge into the Center for Well-Being Programs and Psychological Services, they did not reveal any substantive changes to programming, besides a new physical office. While the name of the Center may be a mouthful, students are left with an unsavory taste, as the Center offers very few services for LGBTQ+ students.
Currently, the Well-Being Center only has one dedicated service for LGBTQ+ students — a group therapy session. For a student looking to quickly join a group, however, the session is not very accessible. To join the group, one must first complete an initial consultation and pre-group meeting. Scheduling an initial consultation requires making a phone call, something many students seeking mental health help may not be able to do. There is no information about what the pre-group meeting consists of on the Well-Being Center’s website. Additionally, the LGBTQ+ group meeting time is inaccessible; meeting from 3:00 p.m. - 4:15 p.m. on Thursdays, which is during both the 2:30 p.m. and 4:05 p.m. class times, making it impossible to attend for many students.
A main concern is the indiscriminate grouping of all LGBTQ+ students under one category for mental health assistance. The different identities within the LGBTQ+ label have varying mental health needs and experiences. A single group to encompass each identity is not enough, especially considering how difficult it may be to join and attend the group. Having individualized LGBTQ+ services massively decreases suicide attempts. Without it, AU essentially puts a bandaid over an open wound. AU is a school with a very large LGBTQ+ population, and as mental health issues tend to be more prevalent in LGBTQ+ identifying people (due to decades of stigmatization), it is important that AU has adequate counseling services.
When The Eagle raised these concerns with the Well-Being Center in its reporting, the Center responded by saying that there were other places at AU that could meet the needs of LGBTQ+ students including “other groups” or the Center for Diversity and Inclusion. As the Well-Being Center is marketed as a one-stop shop for all “well-being,” the University must clarify the services of its resources. It is unclear what “other groups” includes.
In addition to the need for better services for AU’s LGBTQ+ community, the Well-Being Center’s process for new intakes must be made simpler. Many students, especially those with anxiety, may feel uncomfortable making a phone call for their initial appointment. Numerous other organizations on campus use online forms and websites like YouCanBookMe to make this process easier. The Well-Being Center should do the same.
Once students successfully schedule and have their initial consultation, they are often met with dismay as they are told to visit an outside provider instead. Although there aren’t published numbers regarding this issue, The Eagle has found in its reporting that this issue is common among students. Students seeking help should not immediately be told they cannot be helped. Outside providers are expensive, often not covered by insurance and have long waitlists, which can be dangerous for students in need of aid. If AU’s counseling cannot assist students in crisis, why is it advertised as such?
AU must invest more in their Well-Being Center. It is well past time AU begins prioritizing the mental health of students. A start would be listening to student feedback. There is currently not a simple way for students to leave feedback for mental health resources on campus. The University must make students feel welcome to give this feedback and gain their trust. To do this, the administration should reach out to relevant student organizations and affinity groups, like AU Pride, to identify how mental health needs can be better met. AU could also set up an anonymous online form for an easy, non confrontational way for students to voice their needs.
The rebranding of the Counseling Center and HPAC into the Well-Being Center will have been a waste of time and effort if real, substantive change does not come from it. Although the Center has not been around for more than a few months, providing students with adequate mental health services shouldn’t come with growing pains. Consulting with students about student issues is the first step towards a healthier, more inclusive campus.
This article was edited by Nina Heller. Copy editing was done by Isabelle Kravis, Sarah Clayton, Natasha LaChac and Leta Lattin.