On the surface, the mental health struggles Jeana Young experienced in school are unseen. She suffered from depression and anxiety for three months before getting a diagnosis and was not sure if she would graduate.

What You Need To Know

  • Cal State Long Beach has announced an ambitious plan to change its approach to student mental health

  • The plan contains over 60 action items to be rolled out over the next few years, including dispatching a Mobile Crisis Team to psych emergencies

  • They plan to eventually reach out to all students via a mass-text system to check on them during stressful times such as midterms and finals

  • The plan also includes creating at least 10 safe spaces on campus to discuss sensitive issues, expanded hours for counseling and more training for students, faculty and staff to recognize potential problems

“It got to the point where in the middle of my biochemistry class, I just broke down and I couldn’t go to class for the whole week because I would just keep crying,” Young said.

As a Latina, she said there is a cultural stigma that often keeps students from seeking the help they need.

“I felt, because people don’t have the same opportunities within my culture, that I do now being at a four-year institution, I had to push through and not take care of myself,” Young said.

“Underrepresented minoritized students are the least likely to come forward and ask for help,” said Beth Lesen, vice president of student affairs at Cal State University Long Beach.

It is why she and her team at the university have launched a campus-wide initiative to shift how they address mental health.  

Lesen, who has a background in psychology, said many students at the school are minorities, low income or the first in their families to go to college and yet, 85% of their campus mental health services require a student to initiate.

“If we have a large population of people who we know are least likely to come forward and ask for help and then we structure all of our services to require people to come forward and ask for help, we’re going to keep failing,” Lesen said.

The COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on mental health issues, but it only intensified an already pervasive problem on college campuses.

"Sixty-nine percent of college and university presidents nationwide listed mental health as their top area of concern, even before COVID," Lesen said.

This past spring, Cal State Long Beach piloted a mass text-based system to 1,400 students with a live chat function. The purpose is to reach out before something becomes a crisis.

“Hey, we know it is mid-term time. How are you doing? And is there anything we can help you with?” Lesen said.

Of the 1,400 students contacted, the school says close to half responded, and the top three topics were academic counseling, financial aid and mental health services.

"A financial issue can catalyze a mental health crisis and frequently some of these other issues can be the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Lesen said. 

Instead of only having police respond to psych emergencies, a federal grant would create a new Mobile Crisis Team, the first at a Cal State, made up of mental health professionals who can respond on behalf of or with police officers, depending on the situation. The school also said not everyone has to be an expert to help someone emotionally. It wants to train everyone from custodial staff to high-level administrators to recognize potential problems.

"The more of our community members who have the tools to feel confident to respond to someone who’s in distress, the more doors a student has to walk through," Lesen said.

"My professor was able to recognize that I wasn’t OK and she directed me to a program that helped me graduate," Young said.

Because administrators and students say when it comes to improving mental health access and awareness, being proactive takes a village or, in this case, a university.

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