UC Berkeley students experience a great sense of pride attending the No. 1 public university in the world, but there is also a lot of stress attached to such titles. Housing is scarce, everything is incredibly expensive and our classes are so hard that we’re jealous of those in the Haas School of Business whose classes are curved to a B+. According to the UC Undergraduate Experience Survey, 47 percent of UC Berkeley students say they felt depressed or stressed to the point where it became an obstacle to their schoolwork.1 As a fellow UC Berkeley student, I think I can recall many times when I felt as if I had so much work that it would be impossible to complete it all without compromising my sleep, diet and overall mental health. For instances like this, the first recommendation in the campus’s Mental Health Action Plan is improving the education provided for first-year students and working alongside health workers and residence assistants to help fight the stigma against mental health.2 This is the first year the Mental Health Coalition and health workers have been in collaboration to raise mental health awareness around the residence halls. Hopefully, more awareness of mental health resources, satellite offices and Tang Center resources can also come from the new Golden Bear Orientation. One of the biggest concerns voiced at the Mental Health Coalition’s town halls was a lack of knowledge of all the different resources provided on campus.
Although the Tang Center has received funding from the Wellness Fee, the increase in enrollment has overstretched the resources available, resulting in longer wait times, overworked staff and decreased budgets too limited to even buy furniture for their buildings. A Mental Health Advisory Committee has been an idea proposed to increase the transparency of the resources the Tang Center does have and the efforts it makes to meet our demands. This advisory committee would also help provide student representation to the Tang Center that could discuss underserved communities at UC Berkeley and the kinds of counselors the students would like to see hired. Making sure that counselors are trained to address different identities, such as ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and religion has been one of the most fervent demands by the students that has yet to be completely satisfied. Certain groups have even applied for CACSFF and Wellness Free grants in order to satisfy their high demand. Having student representation on the committee would help make the Tang Center more accountable to the students it serves.
According to the Campus Climate Survey, one in four UC Berkeley students responded as having personally experienced “exclusionary, intimidating, offensive and/or hostile conduct.”3 This concerning statistic gives credence to another recommendation in the Mental Health Action Plan: to provide faculty and staff with additional training and resources to understand and support their students’ mental health. The Tang Center has come up with “Promoting Student Mental Health: A Guide for UC Faculty and Staff,” and the Mental Health Coalition is continually urging some system of accountability among professors to ensure they are reading the guide. Although the idea of adding on mental health resources to all syllabi was rejected by the Academic Senate earlier this semester, we are still urging the chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Mental Health to bring up the idea that this guide is required for faculty to read.
This is the last year of the University of California Student Association’s #HowAreYou campaign, and with AB-2017 having been vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown, these next few semesters will be important in lobbying for the importance of mental health among the UC campuses. The Mental Health Coalition, which will hopefully become an ASUC commission under the Academic Affairs Vice President, will work hard to continue to act as a liaison between the numerous organizations on campus, which includes but is not limited to residence assistants, health workers, groups based on ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation and any and all other populations on campus, Registered Student Organizations, the Associated Students of California and others in order to accurately voice the problems surrounding mental health resources.
If you would like to help us with our Mental Health Action Plan or our Mental Health town halls, voice your concerns about mental health at UC Berkeley, or become involved, feel free to email us at [email protected]
Anisha Makhija is the external director for the UC Berkeley Mental Health Coalition. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter