Mental Health Experience at AU

All students at American University recently received an email titled Access to Mental Health Resources from the Vice President of Campus Life & Inclusive Excellence, Fanta Aw. The email was responding to student concerns about access to mental health resources on campus. Fanta Aw stated, "over the past semester, many students have expressed concerns over access to mental healthcare...To gain a better sense of what may be impacting these concerns and how we can improve access, we’ve looked at the data." Then, Aw continued to pinpoint data about missed appointments at the AU Counseling Center and with the Health Center's Psychiatrist. 

  • " Around 20% of all appointments made at the Counseling Center this Fall were not attended.
  • That number grows to 26.5% for initial consultations – which is particularly impactful because, when students express concern about wait times, it’s most often for an initial consultation.
  • There were 389 no-shows at the Counseling Center, an average of roughly 5 per day.
  • There were also 148 late cancellations (cancelled on the same day, which is often not enough notice to fill the appointment).
  • 48 hours of appointment time with psychiatrists at the Student Health Center were not kept, which is the equivalent of 48 new students being seen or 96 follow-up visits.
  • Around 31% of all students served by the Counseling Center are no-shows at some point. "

Mere hours after the email was sent, social media flooded with reactions and memes regarding Aw’s email. The Facebook Group AU Memes for the 5th Most Politically Active Teens, which is a private group consisting of current and past American University Students, blew up with six posts in two hours. Aw’s email is both enraging and amusing to students at AU. Many students feel like the administration’s response to student concerns did not take adequate responsibility for their shortcomings, but rather blamed students for the issues they experience with AU's mental health resources. 

Glitch Man

I have experienced first-hand the woes of attempting to access mental health resources on American University's Campus. My story of attempting to receive healthcare at American University is just one of many and is not exceptional in any way, but it is reminiscent of the problem AU students face with receiving adequate and affordable mental health care on campus. My story also shows that the problem of mental health care on campus is not the fault of students, but a structural issue in the hands of AU administration. 

When I transferred to American University in Spring 2019, I knew I needed to seek mental health resources on campus. I started calling the AU psychiatry phone number on my first day of classes in January 2019 and didn't receive a response for at least two weeks. I had finally scheduled an appointment for the second week of February; however, when I arrived I discovered that the school psychiatrist doesn't take any health insurance. So, the fee for my initial appointment was $75. I was lucky that my parents help me financially, and that I could afford this fee, but I wondered what other students without that support would do in this situation. 

Patrick Spongebob Money

On top of the initial $75 fee, every three months I have to go back to the psychiatrist to renew my prescription which costs $30. In the year 2019, I spent $225 on my psychiatry care at American University. That cost included every visit to the AU psychiatrist and the cost for every prescription at the pharmacy. While this may seem like a relatively small price to pay, for a college student who pays tuition and doesn't have an income, that is a lot of money to pay for something that is necessary to my well-being. 

While I have never spent a cent at the AU Counseling Center, the emotional toll they put me through while trying to receive care was much higher. Which is ironic since I was going there to relieve my mental stress. I also went close to my first day at AU and asked to be a participant in group therapy. Luckily they got me an initial assessment appointment rather quickly, but the group therapy didn't begin until close to March. Additionally, when I asked the Counseling Center to provide me with a recommendation off campus, they just gave me a list of therapists in DC, with no assistance in helping me find a provider that took my insurance. 

The burden is put on American University Students to fight for mental health care on campus and to advocate for their rights, and Fanta Aw has reinforced this notion in her email to the student body.