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DeGioia Speaks at White House Mental Health Conference

White House

From left, John J. DeGioia, Georgetown president; Heidi Kraft, Iraq war veteran and former Navy psychologist; Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education; Sara Critchfield of Upworthy magazine; Noopur Agarwal of MTV; and Dave DeLuca of Text Line on a panel at the White House Mental Health Conference.

June 3, 2013 – Georgetown President John J. DeGioia spoke today at the invitation of President Obama and Vice President Biden about a university program that integrates health and wellness topics into a wide variety of curricula.

Obama and Biden served as hosts June 3 at the White House Mental Health Conference, part of the administration’s effort to launch a national conversation to increase understanding and awareness about mental health.

DeGioia served on one of the panels –  “Ignite: Unlocking Innovative Campaigns” that included Dave DeLuca of Text Line; Upworthy magazine’s Sara Critchfield; Heidi Kraft, an Iraq war veteran and former Navy psychologist; and MTV’s Noopur Agarwal, who spoke about MTV’s Love is Louder website.

Georgetown Safety Net

“We’re talking about a tremendous number of our young people who are at risk and if we don’t provide the safety net to catch them and ensure they are moving into the best possible framework for their care, we fail as institutions,” said DeGioia said in response to a question following his presentation. “What we have found, is if we can make that first intervention when they are 18, 19, 20, it can make the whole difference as they go forward.”

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan moderated the panel on which DeGioia served.

Obama noted that less than 40 percent of American adults with mental health challenges get treated and even fewer children – 50 percent – receive treatment for such problems.

“We wouldn’t accept it if only 40 percent of Americans with cancer got treated,” Obama said in his opening remarks at the conference. “We wouldn’t accept it if only half of young people with diabetes got help. Why should we accept it when it comes to mental health? It doesn’t make any sense.”

Actor and Georgetown alumnus Bradley Cooper (C'97), who recently played a man with bipolar disorder in Silver Linings Playbook, attended the conference and introduced Biden.

Building Awareness, Knowledge

DeGioia told the audience of state and local government officials, mental health advocates, educators, health care providers and faith leaders at the conference about Georgetown’s Engelhard Project.

The project was developed in 2005 to expand and strengthen the university’s “Campus Safety Net,” which represents the network of university staff in place to support each Georgetown student.

“Through course readings, writing assignments, presentations by health professionals and class discussion, students are able to build their awareness and knowledge about mental health and well-being," DeGioia explained.

Increased Tolerance

Since the Engelhard Project launched, it has involved more than 60 faculty members and 30 campus health professionals through 225 courses that reached over 7,500 undergraduates.

“Students who have taken an Engelhard course report being more comfortable asking for help for themselves and also for sharing resources with their peers,” Georgetown’s president explained, adding that students are also more likely to think before they act and report changes in their own and others’ behavior.

He also noted that “students report an increased tolerance of other perspectives and an increased openness, awareness and sensitivity to others, and they are breaking down stigma and stereotypes and becoming more attentive and reflective, relating courses content to their own lives.”

A Model Program

Examples of Georgetown’s Engelhard courses include math professor Jim Sandefur’s use of data on how the body absorbs alcohol in teaching math modeling; philosophy professor Alisa Carse’s relation of issues such as stress and eating disorders to Aristotle’s conception of “flourishing;” and biology professor Maria Donoghue’s class, which connects the biology of depression and mood disorders to the students’ experiences with these issues, either firsthand or through friends.

When asked how schools can help deliver mental health to children and their families, DeGioia responded that what Georgetown has been able to do in a “close-knit residential university community” is applicable in many other educational and advocacy institutions.

“The most important dynamics are being able to teach as many of the community as possible how to recognize that there’s an issue that needs to be addressed,” he said, “and then to just know what is the one call I need to make, how do I refer this to the next step.”

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