The Covid-19 epidemic has only intensified Fidel Vasquez’s interest in mental health. Long Beach, a third-year student at California State University, graduated from high school in the spring of 2020 and began college – from afar – that autumn.
“I wanted to get involved in mental health, in terms of being a student during the epidemic,” Vasquez said. “I didn’t just feel like a university student, and I didn’t feel connected to my campus.”
Now playing a role in the “Mental Health Overhaul” at the University of Vasquez, a new strategic plan titled “Healthy Life on the Beach” includes more than 60 mental health initiatives to be implemented over the next three years.
Beth Lessen, vice president of student affairs and author of the plan, said each initiative falls into one of five objectives: diversity and inclusion, building a community on and off campus, raising awareness about mental health services, and increasing mental health services. Accessible, and uses technology to reach students.
“It’s one of the biggest, most ambitious and aggressive mental health initiatives I’ve ever had in higher education,” Lesson says. “When I first started assembling it and looking for models, I was really trying to find other campuses that were doing something on this scale so that if someone else did something really impressive, I wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel. And I didn’t find anything. “
Vasquez is part of a working group initiative to launch next semester involving teams consisting of a senator, an administrator and a student leader at the university’s student government, and either a mental health professional or a local community leader. Vasquez said leaders from other student organizations would also take part in the working group.
Although the groups have not yet received their assignments, Vasquez hopes he will focus on improving the university’s counseling services or addressing the mental health needs of disadvantaged communities on campus. The teams are scheduled to meet about twice a month, Vasquez said.
“I think it’s a good sign that the university is now partnering with student government and campus leaders,” Vasquez said. “And it’s a good indicator of how effective this initiative will be. I usually think, when it comes to decision making, a lot of the time students are left in the dark, and they don’t know what happens in those offices. “
Other action items include redesigning recruitment strategies to diversify counseling center staff and creating more physical space on campus where students can feel comfortable sharing sensitive experiences.
The plan aims to reach out to affected student-identity groups and others during national crises, as well as to establish community partnerships with local non-profit organizations and resource centers.
Although the plan will not be fully operational until 2025, Lessen said the university is already seeing results from pilot programs launched in the spring.
Among them: a text-based peer-to-peer mentor program offered 1,400 transfer students last semester (out of a total enrollment of 40,000 students), where students reached out to peers during high-stress — such as midterm and final – to check in.
According to data from Cal State Long Beach, the pilot featured a connection of 611 students and a response rate of 44 percent. The most discussed topics were academic counseling and counseling, financial aid and mental health counseling and psychological services. Lesson said the texting service allows migrant students to get answers to questions they might not otherwise have asked.
“These are people who didn’t like to come forward and ask for help independently,” Lesson said. “But when people came and found them, they were open to it. So that’s something we’ve piloted where we’ve had great success, and we’re extending that pilot to all incoming students for the fall. “
In another pilot, the university has launched a Mobile Crisis Team consisting of mental health practitioners to respond to emotional emergencies on campus. Campus police officers are usually needed to respond to such cases on college campuses, as they have the power to initiate hospital admissions, Lessen said. But in the new Cal State Long Beach model, mental health professionals have determined that distressed students need to be hospitalized or simply referred for counseling.
“Any student would appreciate it, but our color communities in particular really appreciate the idea of not responding to a mental emergency by a uniformed police officer,” Lesson said.
Health and Wellness Associate Vice President Damien Javala, who oversees the Mobile Crisis Team, wrote a grant proposal last year to the U.S. Drug Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to fund the program. In January, SAMHSA paid the university $ 400,000 for the initiative.
“The thought behind it was that when our police department responds to crisis situations with students or faculty or staff on campus, they stay in uniform and they carry a firearm,” Javala said. “Even before saying a word, it’s just a different optic. And so we wanted to create a team that could respond to situations where trained physicians come up with a more trauma-aware, humanitarian approach – not that the police can’t do it. . “
Jawala said the mobile team is now active and looking for additional staff.
‘A drop of perseverance’
Jane Close Connolly, president of Cal State Long Beach, noted that even before the epidemic, the university was on track to add more counseling and mental health resources – but indicated the urgency of the epidemic.
“[During the pandemic] I heard for the first time that faculty talked about students not being seen and not going to assignments and feeling isolated and isolated from their work, ”Connolly said. “For the first time in eight years, our stubbornness has diminished. From the first semester to the second semester, we could not develop that sense of kinship. And without peer support and interaction, I think the students একটি a larger number than ours in general সত্যি have really given up and never returned. So we can see that the epidemic has really affected our students, which really threatens their future. ”
According to an enrollment survey of about 3,900 students in the spring of 2022, 2,069 said they were taking less than 15 credits to protect their own well-being. For the upcoming fall semester, 1,328 students expect to take less than 15 credits.
Connolly said the most important part of Cal State Long Beach’s mental health plan is to integrate and implement all 60-plus initiatives as soon as possible.
“I definitely think the biggest impact comes from getting all the pieces in place and we’ll work on that,” Connolly said. “There are a lot of programs across campus, but we haven’t put them together. So it’s going to be a big deal when we realize we have this clinic here, and we have this program here, and we’re trying to pull it together. “