Physical Structure Inadequate to Support Mental Health Services Expansion

By Caroline Nguyen

During the 2014-2015 academic year, student representatives welcomed a 5 percent annual increase in the Student Services Fee under the agreement that a portion of funds would be earmarked towards long-needed mental health direct services expansion at the University of California.  With this in mind, the UC Board of Regents approved for 50 percent of the revenue generated to be allocated to hiring additional mental health clinicians systemwide.

According to a presentation by the UC Office of the President at the UC Student Association’s Congress 2015, this will inject a total of $17.4 million to be expended on counseling staff recruitment, which includes psychiatrists, psychologists, case managers, IT support and other members vital to the efficiency of the behavioral health team.

This was a step in the right direction; however, the operating costs were not accounted for.  Although the capital is currently available to improve the student-to-staff ratio at our Counseling and Psychological Services Centers (CAPS), there is no space on our campuses to reserve for them.  UC Irvine’s Counseling Center, for example, has not been assigned new, permanent space since the 1980s, and any space annexed for satellite usage is only temporary.

Across the state, scarcity of space remains a recurring theme.  UC San Diego’s six residential colleges span nearly 2,000 acres, and students must walk from one end of campus (North Campus) to the other (South Campus) to access mental health services.  At UC Merced, the CAPS waiting room has a seating capacity of three, and it is neither wheelchair accessible nor provides sufficient room for emergency exits.

For years, the state of California has disinvested in building construction, which leaves the financial responsibility on our individual campuses.  It is deferred to our chancellors and our student body, which is a funding model that is neither sustainable nor equitable — students are already bearing the cost of hiring new mental health professionals, and should not cover the price of housing them as well.

This shortage will be exacerbated by the fact that the University of California has signed a contract to increase enrollment by 10,000 in the next three years, with 5,000 coming in next year alone.  Despite that, not even our presently-existing mental health facilities are adequate to serve the student population, enrollment benchmarks are being raised.

As it stands, according to the 2015 annual report from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health, over the last five years, the number of students treated at counseling centers grew at more than five times the rate of institutional enrollment, and the number of attended appointments grew at more than seven times.  At UC Irvine’s Counseling Center specifically, the number of unique clients served has increased 62 percent since 2009-2010, while campus enrollment has grown by only 11 percent.  These results indicate that the demand for clinical services is dramatically outpacing the growth of student enrollment, and this difference will only grow more pronounced with time.

This is not an expression of opposition to the University of California’s anticipated matriculation growth, but rather a reminder that if enrollment is to be intentionally expanded, then the appropriate long-range planning to amply house mental health services must also be deliberately prioritized.  The lack of physical room on our campus has become so severe that space for essential student services must now be triaged, which is a practice that outrageously endangers student safety, comfort, and health.

At the January 2015 Board of Regents meeting, Regent Sherry Lansing expressed that the proposal to earmark 50 percent of the Student Services Fee to growing Tier 1 services is only the beginning of the Regents’ effort to provide adequate mental health care to UC students, and that she looks forward to an update on the status of behavioral health services in one year.  One year has passed, and the consensus is that allocation of physical room must be the second priority.

In order for last year’s initiative to come full circle, campus administration and UC leadership must join in locating a reliable, timely source of funding to develop space that does not introduce undue financial burden to our student body.  California legislators must issue higher education facilities bonds to support infrastructure development, and space expansion must be classified as urgent in the annual update to the Capital Plan.  Otherwise, the new, steady funds to grow our counseling services teams statewide will fall short in their capacity to fully address and resolve an issue that has dominated discussions of university wellness for over a decade.

 

This article was a submission to us by Caroline Nguyen, the Associated Students of UC Irvine Mental Health Commissioner, alongside UC student government leaders across the state. A complete list of signatures is viewable below. Key points of this content were delivered to the Regents’ Committee of the Whole on Jan. 20, and the letter in its entirety will be presented to UC President Janet Napolitano at a UCOP meeting Jan. 27.

 

Caroline Nguyen

Associated Students UC Irvine

Mental Health Commissioner

Avi Oved

University of California

UC Student Regent

Marcela Ramirez

University of California

UC Student Regent-Designate

Kristine Jermakian            

Associated Students UC Irvine

Executive Vice President        

Timothy Ma        

UCI Associated Graduate Students

President

Parshan Khosravi

Associated Students UC Irvine

President

Alexander Fung

Associated Students UC Irvine

Administrative Affairs Vice President

Nicole Dizon

Associated Students UC Irvine

Student Services Vice President

Elvis Leng

Associated Students UC Irvine

Academic Affairs Vice President

Kelly Im        

Associated Students UC Irvine

Legislative Affairs Director

Taylor Chanes

Associated Students UC Irvine

Organizing Director

Yareli Castro

Associated Students UC Irvine

Campus Action Team Director

Phil Coba      

Associated Students UC Merced

External Vice President

Bianca Negrete

Associated Students UC Merced

Organizing Director

Lacy Wright

UC Student Association

Alumni Relations Officer

Guillermo Rogel

UC Student Association

Chair of Board of Directors

Julie Foster  

Student Union Assembly, UC Santa Cruz

President

Art Motta

Student Union Assembly, UC Santa Cruz

Organizing Director

Ria Jain

“All of Us,” UCLA

Mental Health Advocacy Director

Daniel Juarez

Associated Students UC San Diego

VP of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

Michael Zhong

Associated Students UC San Diego

Marshall Senator

Lewis Luartz

UC Riverside Graduate Student Association

President

Oscar Loera  

Associated Students UC Riverside

Legislative Affairs Director

Faiza Zahid

Associated Students UC Riverside

Organizing Director

Mohsin Mirza

Associated Students UC Santa Barbara

External VP of Statewide Affairs

Madison Frame

Associated Students UC Berkeley

Mental Health Coordinator

Andre Luu

Associated Students UC Berkeley

Senator

Mariah Watson        

Associated Students UC Davis

President

Roman Rivilis          

Associated Students UC Davis

Undergraduate and Former Senator

Michael Yepez         

Associated Students UC Davis

Organizing Director

Breana Ross             

United States Student Association

Vice President

Aja Campbell                                                           

United States Student Association

West Coast National Field Associate