Meeting student mental health needs at UC Davis

JORDAN CHOW / AGGIE

Insight from executive director of health and wellness at UC Davis

As the executive director of health and wellness with leadership and advocacy responsibilities in Student Health and Counseling Services, I am acutely aware that strong mental health support can improve students’ academic achievements, persistence and overall wellbeing.

Recent research from the National Alliance on Mental Illness shows that 25 percent of college students have a diagnosable mental or psychological illness. At UC Davis, 13 percent of our students accessed Counseling Services last year (over 23,000 client visits). Their most common concerns were anxiety, depression, stress, academics and relationships.

Most students who request an appointment with Counseling Services can receive an initial consultation the same day or the next day. Last year, over 90 percent of students could be seen within seven days of requesting an appointment. Counseling Services’ main location is North Hall. Services also are available at the Student Health and Wellness Center. To further expand the reach of mental health services, counselors also are embedded in many academic satellite locations:

  • Colleges of Biological Sciences
  • College of Letters and Science
  • College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences
  • College of Engineering
  • School of Veterinary Medicine
  • School of Medicine
  • School of Law
  • Office of Graduate Studies

In addition, Community Advising Network (CAN) counselors provide outreach, psycho-educational programming, clinical counseling and referral services for traditionally underserved populations. Their services are delivered through partnerships with a number of campus units:

  • Asian American Studies
  • Cross Cultural Center
  • Educational Opportunity Program
  • Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual Resource Center
  • Middle Eastern/South Asian Student Affairs Officer
  • Center for African Diaspora Student Success
  • Center for Chicanx and Latinx Academic Student Success
  • Native American Academic Student Success Center
  • Services for International Students and Scholars
  • Student Recruitment and Retention Center
  • Transfer and Reentry Center
  • Veterans Success Center
  • Women’s Resources and Research Center

To assist our diverse student population, Counseling Services staff speak several languages, including English, Spanish, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Gujarati, Korean, Hindi, Urdu, Hebrew and Taiwanese.

To help improve access to mental health services on campus, new counseling positions have been created to meet the needs of our growing and diverse student body. The University of California Office of the President’s Mental Health Funding Initiative (MHFI) of 2015 has allowed UC Davis to add five counselors and stabilize five other counselor positions that had been on temporary funding. We have plans to hire three additional counselors by fall 2020. In addition, two new full-time psychiatrists were added, increasing the number of providers at the SHWC Behavioral Health Clinic to three full-time and one half-time psychiatrists.

SHCS is actively developing creative approaches to improve mental health access.  Responding to student demand for a variety of services, during an initial counseling visit, students are offered the options of self-care resources, psychoeducational workshops, group counseling and individual counseling. SHCS has invested in additional case management staff who can help connect students to other providers and resources on and off campus. SHCS also offers “You Got This” psychoeducational student workshops, a three-part series that combines evidence-based practices for more skillful management of a variety of mental health concerns.  

To accommodate students’ busy schedules, SHCS provides access to care outside of the traditional counseling office. Students can access LiveHealth Online to schedule a 45-minute appointment to talk face-to-face with a licensed therapist or psychologist through an online portal. LiveHealth Online is covered at 100 percent for UC Student Health Insurance Plan (UCSHIP) students. Students without UCSHIP can use their health insurance or pay a visit fee for this service. When offices are closed, students can receive help from a mental health professional using SHCS’ ProtoCall service by calling our main number (530) 752-2300. Lastly, this Winter Quarter, the campus plans to launch the Crisis Text Line, which will give students free access to 24/7 crisis support via text.

Research shows that sometimes it’s more comfortable for a student to speak with another student rather than a health care professional. SHCS offers Mental Health First Aid training to students who want to learn how to help someone who may be experiencing a mental health-related crisis or problem. Students are also actively involved with the Each Aggie Matters Website, which brings together students, staff and faculty to collectively raise awareness, de-stigmatize mental illness and cultivate mental health as a state of flourishing. The website includes a Mental Health Map that identifies places on campus where students can go for self-care, mental health services and other resources. SHCS also supports student-led initiatives such as the upcoming UC Davis Mental Health Conference and the Student Mental Health Coalition, a network of student groups that advise campus leadership, inform students, reduce stigma, allow for collaboration and promote resource transparency around mental health issues.

SHCS is committed to supporting students who are struggling with mental health issues and to ensuring that student mental health needs remain a priority at UC Davis. We will continue to take appropriate steps to balance the demand for increasing mental health services with existing resources. We are actively soliciting the student voice on these issues and will be forming a Student Health Advisory Committee to act as a formal liaison between the UCD student body and SHCS. The Committee will review current services and develop new programs to ensure SHCS meets the needs of students. Please contact me if you are interested in participating. Undergraduate and graduate students are welcome to apply for these stipend positions.

If you have any questions or would like to learn more about Counseling Services, please visit the SHCS website or contact me at matrout@ucdavis.edu.

 

Margaret Walter is the executive director of health and wellness at UC Davis.

Written by: Margaret Walter