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Office of Campus Life

January 26, 2020

Dear Students,
As we begin the new semester, I would like to share with you some reflections on our student health care resources, particularly our mental health resources.

Over the past semester, many students have expressed concerns over access to mental healthcare. This is feedback we take very seriously. Emotional wellbeing is so critical to thriving in college and beyond, and we know these resources have a measurable positive impact on the wellbeing of the AU students who use them.

Over 1,200 students were served this Fall by the Counseling Center and psychiatrists at the Student Health Center – 907 at the Counseling Center and 298 by Student Health Center psychiatrists, many with multiple appointments. Satisfaction scores for the Center are high, with 97.5% reporting they would recommend the Counseling Center to a friend.

Yet clearly a number of students have frustrations related to access. To gain a better sense of what may be impacting these concerns and how we can improve access, we’ve looked at the data. I’d like to share with the community a troubling trend that emerges.

Both the Counseling Center and the Student Health Center are experiencing a significant rate of unkept mental health appointments.

  • 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.

We found no relationship in the data between the anticipated length of the wait time and the likelihood of skipping an appointment. In other words, there is no reason to think that clients were failing to show up because they were frustrated at waiting. The same number of clients, and sometimes more, didn’t keep appointments with only a one-day or two-day wait as didn’t keep appointments with longer waits.

To ensure clients are reminded of the appointment on their schedules, they receive a contact from the Counseling Center the day before the planned initial consultation. Student Health Center reminders are also sent for psychiatry appointments, both on the day the appointment is made and the morning of the appointment.

Same-day drop-in appointments at the Counseling Center are always available from 2-4 pm on weekdays during Urgent Care Drop-In Hours, and in the past three semesters, there has not been a waiting list for ongoing therapy. However, appointments that aren’t drop-ins do need to be scheduled in advance with the appropriate counselor (or, at the Student Health Center, with the psychiatrist), and that time is then set aside in the schedule and unavailable to others, unless it is canceled with enough notice.

We ask that students please be mindful of the realities of scheduling and the needs of others by keeping appointments and providing notification well in advance if an appointment can’t be kept. We understand this can sometimes be difficult, but it’s important.

Let’s all work together to ensure that services to support the emotional wellbeing of our community are utilized thoughtfully so that those who seek them can benefit.

Sincerely, Fanta Aw
Vice President of Campus Life & Inclusive Excellence
American University
campuslife@american.edu