CA community college system dismisses mental health services

Every college should offer mental health services. Maybe this seems like a foregone conclusion. But in a recent survey by the California Health Report, as well as findings by experts, 19 of the 114 community colleges in California were found to have no mental health services on campus. By itself, this is worrisome, but it is even more so when one takes into account that California Health Report found that “students who attend community colleges are at higher risk for mental health issues.”

The crux of the issue is that due to the way that community colleges are funded, establishing a health service is optional for community college districts. But consistently optimal mental health is not a given. Therefore, there should be contingencies at every college for students that are struggling.

The importance of mental health counselors and services can’t be understated. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that more than 75 percent of all mental health conditions start before the age of 24. This makes it crucial for young adults to have mental health services. But even colleges that do have mental health counselors can have very limited hours.

What this says to me about the California community college system is that they value the physical health over the mental health of their students. While physical health is important, mental health can’t be seen from the outside, which makes it harder to see the scope of the problem. It seems to me that these colleges are underestimating the impact and importance of providing mental health services on campus to their students.

In coordination with the difficulties of outwardly seeing the effects of mental health is the stigma that surrounds it. Discussing mental health can still make people feel uncomfortable. Students that need help may feel discouraged from reaching out because they will be seen as “deficient” in some way or incapable of handling college while they watch other students succeed.

Colleges that don’t offer mental health services on campus are effectively saying that their students have no mental health issues. If you didn’t feel ostracized before for struggling with your mental health, this message that the college is sending you could alienate you even more.

College students can be under intense stress, anxiety and pressure which makes getting an education hard. Ultimately, the goal of the school is to educate its students, and catering to their mental health is one aspect of that. By ignoring the needs of the students, colleges are prioritizing education over any other aspect that could impact the lives of their students and they come off as unsympathetic.

But there are solutions. In a study at 12 California colleges by the American Psychological Association, peer- or student-run mental health organizations and clubs helped reduce stigma and increase knowledge of mental health as well as saw more people engage in ”helping behaviors.”

In May 2017, the California community college system partnered with the Crisis Text Line to give students a free way to receive help. This was a great effort on the part of the college system. To help promote the partnership, an ambassador program would see 15 ambassadors (for a 114 college system) attend a conference that would train them in suicide prevention and create an event promoting mental health awareness. However, in an email interview with EdSurge, Heather McClenahen, the manager of equity programs at the Foundation for California Community Colleges said, “one student ambassador on a campus of 30,000 students may not make a dent”.

It’s obvious that this ambassador program is not fully thought through since it would be a massive waste of funding and resources to pay to implement a program that could cause no difference on campuses. Instead of throwing money at a program with little effect, it would serve students more for the California community college system to spend more time coming up with solutions that could affect real change on campuses.

Clarification: This article was meant to express the idea that the 19 CA community colleges that don’t have any services, should. And that the funding for CA community colleges be amended so that it’s not optional to have health services for students. This article was not based on Skyline but on the broader community college system. However, I should have specified that Skyline does offer mental health services. If you need psychological counseling, you can come into the office in Building 2, Rooms 2-206 & 2-237, contact [email protected], or call (650) 738-4270.