As an undergraduate student on a UC campus, I have definitely seen the negative effects of stress and mental health issues on myself and my fellow peers. Feeling overwhelmed by classes or having anxiety over the finals we just took are very common experiences shared by UC students.
In response to this growing issue, the University of California is taking action by hiring 85 clinicians across the system to increase access to mental health services, reduce wait times for students and complement outreach and prevention efforts. In order to hire the 85 clinicians, the UC system plans to allocate an $18 million increase to the UC’s student mental health budget by 2018-2019.
This is a great first step, but to be successful, the mental health staff hired has to be able to understand the specific issues and concerns of an extremely diverse student body that exists within the UC system.
One of the most difficult aspects of addressing mental health is the powerful stigma attached to it. This is another reason why the close attention being paid by the UC system to mental health is extremely promising. According to Alex Hill, a past mental health peer during his junior year at UC Santa Barbara, “The university is shining a spotlight to let students know that it is not only OK, but normal, to get the care that they need.” Collectively, the UC system is becoming more conscious of the growing trend of students suffering from distress and mental health issues and wants to stay ahead of the issue.
Many UC students have optimistic outlooks about this initiative, like UCSD senior Sarah Feteih, who thinks the increased money and attention from the UC system toward student mental health is “an investment in the retention of students.” These additional clinicians on UC campuses will definitely enhance the students’ experience and cause them to feel more appreciated by their respective UC campus. Furthermore, these clinicians will allow students to have access to more care resources and will be vital aspects of the overall health of UC students systemwide.
The UC system says that hiring diverse mental health staff is one of their top priorities in this initiative. They are going to make sure they meet the needs of UC students by recruiting diverse mental health providers with cultural competency and special skill sets to care for vulnerable populations.
I have a personal connection with this issue because I have known college students who have not reported their mental health issues due to thinking they could not relate to the school psychiatrist. The new psychiatrists hired from this initiative must be able to work cohesively with diverse student populations.
With all this in mind, the UC system has also bolstered its outreach and prevention efforts, such as launching an anonymous online suicide prevention screening program and launching student mental health awareness campaigns at each campus. According to Dr. Taisha Caldwell-Harvey, the student mental health program manager and clinical coordinator at the UC Office of the President, “We’re all struggling with the same issues… By sharing ideas, we’re not having to reinvent the wheel.”
Mental health is not a joke and should not be taken lightly. If you know of anybody suffering from a mental health illness, strongly encourage them to report it. Not reporting the issue can be detrimental to the individual and can lead to self-harm, isolation and even suicide. According to the American College Health Association, the suicide rate among young adults, ages 15-24, has tripled since the 1950s and suicide is currently the second-most common cause of death among college students.
By sharing ideas on how to combat mental health issues on our UC campuses we can educate more people and save more lives. I am proud to be a part of a higher education system that recognizes the mental health issue and is actively working to mitigate its effects on students. Furthermore, with a diverse student population on each of the UC campuses, it is essential that the mental health staff that are hired are well-equipped with dealing with students of all racial groups, cultural backgrounds, socioeconomic class, etc. The true success of this important UC initiative will be how well the new clinicians can relate and connect with the various types of students within the UC system. In all honesty, students’ minds will depend on it.