Submission: Taking Our Mental Health into Our Own Hands

UC San Diego persistently wields its diversity as a source of pride and as a source of power. The racial, cultural, and cognitive variance of the UCSD populace is undoubtedly of great importance to our identity and environment as an institution. Despite this diversity and all the acclaim it has earned the university, UCSD seems to have no intention to structure its mental healthcare system in a way that addresses the diverse needs, issues, and experiences of individual students. The Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) website proudly states that UCSD has “one psychiatrist for every 18,000 students.” How can such a meager mental healthcare system provide vital, specialized, timely help to those who need it? The simple answer: It can’t.

CAPS is designed to exclude most students from its care, stating that their “primary goal is to help stabilize urgent and emergent psychiatric conditions.” While a noble and important goal, stabilizing and then monitoring suicidal students is not the be-all, end-all of mental healthcare. On the contrary, any person living with chronic mental health issues knows that mental health is all about day-to-day maintenance and small labors: take your pills, go to therapy, don’t miss appointments, find ways to avoid negative thinking patterns. Most people’s mental health history is not defined by huge, urgent events. The fact that UCSD’s only official mental healthcare system is explicitly designed to primarily deal with life-threatening events, after the fact, is an indication that the system is designed to cover for the administration, not to care for the students and ensure that we are healthy and thriving. A suicide or other serious injury would be a PR nightmare for UCSD, but the thousands of students dealing with anxiety, panic attacks, depression, addiction, and eating disorders are just a collection of isolated individuals suffering silently in the shadow of CAPS’ unwillingness and inability to help them.

Let’s cut the bullshit. CAPS, in its current form, sucks. When we need help, we’re sent on a wild goose chase of circular referrals and month-long waiting periods. CAPS barely succeeds at what it is supposed to do and its purpose only addresses the problems and needs of a tiny minority of the many students struggling with their mental health. We, as a student body, must band together and take our safety and health into our own hands. The resources of the university in combination with the experience, community, and advocacy of the student body could lead to a major improvement in the way mental health is approached on campus. This is where we come in, where we stand to fight a corporate university, and where we form a Student Collective for Mental Health (SCMH).

The Student Collective for Mental Health proposes a simple solution: an official, university-sanctioned Mental Health Resource Center (MHRC). A physical location for students, led by students, that emphasizes the non-psychiatric side of mental health. Being healthy is not just about pills and doctors. It’s about community, de-stressing, and sharing information, coping mechanisms, and stories of survival and joy. While CAPS continues to grow and deal with urgent crisis situations, the rest of the student body needs day-to-day maintenance. Mental health issues require care and attention even when things are fine.

The MHRC will be a safe space for the marginalized community of people struggling with mental illnesses, disabilities, and health issues. This is not some frivolous gesture to get puppies and face masks for stressed students. This is an attempt to build a home where people in pain can find that they are not alone in their struggles, that others have survived what they are going through. The MHRC will be a place to exchange knowledge and encouragement, and most importantly, build an understanding, open, supportive community.

We will provide de-stressing events and educational events for understanding different mental struggles. We plan to hold peer-education seminars on subjects such as dealing with panic attacks and learning time management for anxious students. We will also organize quiet study areas and provide specialized tutoring for students with attention-deficit hyperactive disorder or anxiety. The intersectional nature of mental health struggles also necessitates discussion groups and events tailored to people of color, the queer community, people of all genders and nationalities, etc., in order to discuss their mental health with a group of people who understand the unique interaction between their mental health struggles and their identities.

Ultimately, the Student Collective for Mental Health is attempting to create a holistic, community-centered approach to mental health care that will fill in some of the gaps left by CAPS. We are focused on long-term, low-scale, day-to-day management, and on community and collaboration. We will not be bystanders to the silent suffering of our peers, our friends, and ourselves. Our struggles have given us the gifts of insight and empathy. It’s time to use them to make UCSD a safer, healthier place.

Jake Hyde is a member of the Student Collective for Mental Health (SCMH) and a third-year UCSD student. If you have any questions, suggestions, or want to get involved, you can contact SCMH at scmhucsd@gmail.com.

The SCMH petition for a Mental Health Resource Center can be found here: https://www.change.org/p/founding-a-mental-health-resource-center-at-ucsd?recruiter=901039871&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink&utm_campaign=share_petition.

SCMH has also provided an anonymous survey (sign in through an UCSD email address) about mental health at UCSD to inform them of what a Mental Health Resource Center would need: https://goo.gl/forms/K8jdWyygldoOQkkQ2

The positions stated here do not necessarily represent the opinions of The Triton, any of its members, or any of its affiliates. We welcome responses to opinion pieces. If you’d like to submit a response, or comment on a different issue affecting the UC community, please submit here.

  • Grace Ferber

    Thank you SO much for your efforts! I think one caveat that we would really really need to focus on is that this would need to be a place for preventative mental health care and guided workshops, and not student-run, support-group-like scenarios. Students are not qualified to mitigate and healthfully process one another’s trauma and personal experience and mental illness, and for that reason we would need very clear and intentional boundaries in peer relationships. We also don’t want to enable the university by doing jobs ourselves which the university knows it should and could be paying professionals to do.

    • Jake Hyde

      Absolutely! Yes, the article needed to be concise so it doesn’t have the specificity of our growing proposal, but the MHRC is NOT a group therapy or psychiatric center. We are providing prevention, education, and community. While we will definitely have discussion groups for people struggling with specific issues/disorders, they will be more of specific guided strategies for things in life/work rather than therapy groups.

      However, we do believe that peer connection is and can be incredibly healing. We do not discouraging open vulnerable discussion of struggles between students, we just don’t portend to be licensed therapists/counselors. Much of my personal healing has come from open, honest communication with people my age that have experienced similar things. We believe that it is not necessary to have a specific degree/certification to form healthy bonds of community.

      We also are very conscious of not allowing the university to get away with not taking care of its population. Full-time employees at resource centers are paid by the university, and that will ideally remain true at the MHRC. We aren’t sure yet what staff we would need, but it is possible that we will have an MSW or licensed counselor on board to ensure that our programs are healthy and being conducted in a thoughtful, safety-centric way.

      Thank you for starting this dialogue!