Entering college, I never considered my mental health a priority. I attended orientation, and Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) gave a ten minute presentation comparing mental health to an egg being held up by strings. And with that, the university stepped away, expecting me to navigate their system with three-week wait times and limited contact with already over-worked providers. Students are paying for eight appointments a year, but are rarely able to use all of these before the school year ends. Discontinuing service or being referred out are common practices undertaken by clinicians to push down wait times. This is neither healthy for the student or the provider, but without more physical space, clinicians, therapists, or funding, it is just not possible for the university to provide adequate mental health services on campuses across the UC.
A recent bill, Assembly Bill (AB) 2017, would have created a grant program for schools to apply for funds pertaining to mental health, which the university would then be obliged to match. The funds would have been pulled from the money created by Proposition 63, which taxes the highest 0.1 percent of California taxpayers and has created a pool of millions of dollars. After making it out of the Assembly and the Senate, it was vetoed by Governor Brown, impeding universities from improving the quality of services offered.
Last year, I was fortunate enough to participate in the lobbying of AB 2017 at the annual Student Lobby Conference through my role as the Vice President of External Affairs for Associated Students. In my work there, I am the representative for UCSD in affairs pertaining to the the UC Student Association (UCSA), the California Legislature, the Governor, the UC President, and the Regents of the UC. My work at UCSD and within the system includes lobbying legislators and the Governor and examining as well as proposing policy changes that would benefit UC students as a whole. Governor Brown failed students across California by vetoing AB 2017, depriving the University of California and the other California college systems of desperately needed mental health funds.
Last year the University of California Student Association (UCSA) graded each UC’s mental health services through the two-year campaign #HowAreYou. UCSD received a C+ in mental health services available. Currently, wait times are locked at 14-21 days depending on the severity of the student’s mental health. Multiple students took their own lives last year while the University made not a statement or a mention to the rest of our campus. As a system, the UC refuses to look at mental health in conjunction with other issues our students face, which has inhibited change from happening on multiple levels. This funding from the state is urgently needed in order to hire more diverse clinicians and create a central location for students to seek help and self care.
This bill would have allowed UCSD access to funds that could have hired more CAPS counselors and clinicians as well as expedited the creation of a central location for the CAPS office. As a first year going to my CAPS appointments, I had to travel from ERC to Revelle or Warren, searching large buildings for my provider’s seemingly hidden office. Now as a fourth year commuter, I spend so much time in the central part of campus that CAPS offices seem distant and inaccessible. A central office would provide easier access to CAPS facilities for both commuters and folks living on campus. Additionally, it would give students a central location to meet their mental health needs and seek out resources.
Last month, this bill was vetoed by Governor Brown, who called the bill “well intentioned […] but premature.” My question is, if not now, when? How many students have to take their lives? How many students have to be pushed out of one of the most prestigious institutions of learning in the world because of a lack of investment in mental health services? As students fail to meet their basic needs due to rising rent and tuition, their mental health issues compound. As students take multiple jobs in order to sustain themselves, their grades slip, and their mental health issues compound.
When students feel unsafe on their campus because of chalkings and hate speech, their mental health issues compound. Mental health is intersectional and all students are affected by the rigor of UCSD. The State Legislature took this issue seriously; it’s time for the Governor’s office to acknowledge the necessity of investing in students and recognize mental health as a priority.
Lauren Roberts is the Vice President of External Affairs at Associated Students UC San Diego.