The transition from high school to college is tough. As a first-year student, I had to grapple with the stress of being separated from my family, ingrained cultural pressures to succeed, relationship issues, and the struggles of trying to budget time for academics, advocacy, and extracurricular activities. I quickly found myself in a maze of mixed emotions - constantly feeling inadequate, broken, insecure, and weak. I didn't see a positive future for myself, and I thought it would be easier to give up than to even try. When my friends recommended counseling, I quickly shrugged away the thought, as my own high school counseling services gave me a negative outlook on what care-based counseling was supposed to look like. It wasn't until my school administration checked up on my own mental health state that I knew I needed help.
However, this help did not come easy. It took about three weeks to schedule an appointment with my counseling services, which on the quarter system, is about 1/3 of the academic quarter. When I arrived to my appointment, I had to fill out preliminary forms and surveys full of triggering content, asking in-depth questions about suicide, eating disorders, self-image, depression and anxiety that hit too common of a chord within me. Before the appointment even began, I was hurt and I didn't exactly feel receptive to whatever counseling could be offered after those intensive questions. What's more, although my university saw my mental health as a potential worry, I was not even able to meet with a licensed psychologist - but rather a graduate student from the Psychology department. Months later after my appointment, none of the counseling staff has followed up with me to check up on my mental health or to see how I was doing.
These frustrations are not isolated narratives. Earlier in the academic year, the UC Students Association released a grade for each UC mental health center, in which the average was a C- with respect to accessibility, quality, and diversity. My own campus ranked a C-, while the lowest score was UC Merced, with an F+. Our students are struggling with the increased pressures that a lack of basic needs cause, and our mental health services are not fit to help such a large pool of students struggling.
As frustrating as it is, this is not an issue that I blame each campus's counseling centers for. The lack of funding given to these centers causes an inadequate amount of funds to be distributed for outreach and care resources, but there is a bill that can dramatically change how mental health services are funded for the University of California, Cal State universities, and state community colleges.
A.B. 2017, known as the College Mental Health Services Program, is a bill authored by California Assemblymember Kevin McCarty. Through this bill, a Mental Health Services Fund is created using $40 million of funds generated from Proposition 63. The funding would then be used to create grant programs for public community colleges, colleges and universities across the state to improve mental health services. Universities apply for the grant, in which they are expected to match the funds of the grant to improve the outreach, resources, and care techniques for students. What's more, administrative costs are limited to 5% of the grant, further ensuring that the funds go back to students, not a new administrative title.
I dream of the day where I can go to the counseling center without having to wait close to a month for an appointment. I advocate for the day where students can feel comfortable with a counselor that understands their unique needs, with respect to one's gender identity, sexual orientation, culture, and socioeconomic background, and the complexities and intersections between all of these factors. A.B 2017 addresses a need that for all too long, I have been ingrained to ignore and to accept as normal. It provides more room for us to stop talking about the issues behind our mental health facilities, and to generate meaningful change towards their improvement.
Mental health care is a human right, and it's time we address the silent epidemic through bills such as A.B 2017.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.