Report: UC Students’ Mental Health Needs Require Transfusion
By Vic Cox
||Student Affairs Vice Chancellor Michael Young, with UCSB Counseling Center in the background, hopes to see more UC resources funneled into mental health programs.
To Michael Young, UCSB vice chancellor, student affairs, and co-chair of the systemwide Student Mental Health Committee, theirs was no ordinary report to the Regents. In sketching the complex nature of student mental health problems confronting UC campuses, how existing resources were generally inadequate to manage these problems, and suggesting steps necessary to reverse and improve earlier budget choices, the committee sought to do nothing less than save lives.
“Make no mistake,” said Young, “this is not just another plea for increased funding for an important service. This initiative seeks to create 10 healthy UC campuses where we provide an optimum environment for students to live, work, and study. It can have a massive impact, over the years, on hundreds of thousands of young people.
“I also believe, and my committee believes,” he continued
quietly, “that some young people who might have died, will survive because
of this initiative with their lives enhanced.” He added that much needs to
be done to implement the committee’s recommendations <www.universityofcalifornia.edu/regents/regmeet/
>, but the initial reception has been favorable.
Co-chaired by psychiatrist Dr. Joel Dimsdale of UC San Diego, the 12-member committee was established in December 2005 by UC Provost and Executive Vice President Rory Hume. When its report was presented to the Regents last September, Hume declared it “an important step toward addressing these critical issues,” adding, “We must respond to this rising challenge of student mental health with a comprehensive plan.”
The Regents, Young reported, were attentive and asked questions for clarification and information. “In the 17 years I’ve been at UCSB I’ve had multiple occasions to attend Regents’ meetings, and this one was remarkable,” he said, for the lack of opposition to the ideas presented.
What the Regents heard was that campus mental health professionals were seeing more students with more complex problems, a national trend that has been growing stronger since the late 1990s. Budget cuts have limited campuses’ abilities to respond, reduced staff providers, and consequently students suffer longer waits for non-emergency care, which drives some away.
For example, at UCSB mental health visits to the Student Health Center doubled between 1995-2005 to a total of more than 4,600 a year, including 3,300 psychiatric visits for acute care. Counseling services has seen its focus on preventive care through group counseling reversed since 1991 so that by 2004-05 it had three times as many crisis appointments as group sessions.
The committee’s report proposed a three-tiered approach. Here is a sampling: First, restore critical mental health and crisis response services, such as increasing the professional provider staff and enhancing crisis response teams; secondly, target interventions with vulnerable groups, including an integrated prevention program with appropriate training; and third, create healthier learning environments by reducing stress and promoting positive mental health awareness.
After the report, UC President Robert Dynes told Hume to get to work on implementing the panel’s recommendations, recalled Young, “and the provost just said, ‘Yes, sir.’ It was amazing.”