Retirement of Mental Health Nurses Leaves Gap at Health Center

Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 9.34.48 PMBy Abby Wargo


It’s no secret that mental health is a major concern in the United States today. It seems like it’s something everyone is conscious of, but no significant progress has been made.

In 2016, about 18 percent of Americans were reported to have a mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The prevalence of mental illness among young adults aged 18-25 was even higher, at around 22 percent.

Additionally, suicide is on the rise across the nation. Suicide rates have risen more than 30 percent in half of states since 1999, the Centers for Disease Control and prevention reported. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for youths.

We’re told it’s a problem. We’re told it’s important. But what is being done to fix it?

At Washington College, it doesn’t seem like a priority. On Aug. 13, Health Services sent out an email announcing that both of the school’s psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners were retiring, effective July 30. The email alerting students to this change was not sent until two weeks later.

Psychiatric nurse practitioners employed by the school can provide medication for mental illness. Without these specialized nurses, the Health Center cannot prescribe students medication for mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and ADHD/ADD, according to the campus-wide email sent by Health Services.

For WC students who rely on the Health Center for psychiatric medications, this is detrimental. Finding a mental health care provider that is affordable, helpful, and accessible is difficult to begin with. Finding an alternate mental health care provider less than a month before school begins is even harder.

Students who do not have the money or health insurance to pay for a doctor’s visit and medication are disproportionately affected by the lack of mental health care at the Health Center. Additionally, some students may not be able to seek treatment at home if their family does not believe in, or will not allow, treating mental illness with medication. Students without a car on campus are also at a disadvantage if doctor’s appointments are out of town.

If students have no way to get the medication they need to function, even the simplest things can become difficult tasks. Focusing on schoolwork, hygiene, nutrition, and relationships can all be negatively affected by an untreated mental illness. In the beginning weeks of the semester, students should be able to focus on their studies and live their lives unencumbered by the fear that they will not be able to receive the adequate treatment and care they’re entitled to.

While we recognize the difficulty of hiring these positions in a rural area, WC needs to actively work with students who are affected by this to find an alternate mental health care provider instead of leaving them high and dry with little notice.

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