Parents demand improved mental health services at UC Berkeley after son’s suicide

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SAN FRANCISCO — More than a month after UC Berkeley sophomore Maliq Nixon was found dead at a Northside cooperative, his parents are claiming the campus’s mental health services do not provide adequate care.

Nixon — whose death was a suicide, according to his mother, Nina Nixon — was pronounced dead at Stebbins Hall in the early morning on Sept. 21. His parents spoke at the UC Board of Regents meeting Tuesday, urging the regents to reform the campus’s mental health services.

Nixon was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and depression prior to entering UC Berkeley in fall 2012 but did not receive the treatment he needed in his time as a student, according to his father, Thomas Nixon.

“The frustrations that my wife, son and I faced in treating my son’s mental illness at UC Berkeley was unacceptable, and it is our hope that no other student and their parents face the same frustration with the same fatal outcome,” Thomas Nixon said.

He proposed a series of changes to UC Berkeley’s mental health services during the meeting’s public comment period. He said the Tang Center, the campus’ student health facility, must be relocated to a central area on campus and called its current location near the southwest corner of campus “isolated.” The center is located on Bancroft Way between Ellsworth and Fulton streets.

He also asked that the Tang Center be kept in operation 24/7, saying the center should hire more staff members and increase services for underrepresented minority students. He requested that UC Berkeley better educate students, faculty and staff members on mental illness, calling on the campus to do more outreach.

Kim LaPean, the Tang Center’s communications manager, said much work to bolster mental health services at UC Berkeley is already under way, including new counseling services and two campuswide campaigns to build support networks for students, faculty and staff members who want to help someone who is struggling.

“We hear the concerns of the family, and we want to reaffirm our unwavering commitment to support the mental health needs of our campus community,” LaPean said in a statement responding to the Nixons. “We continue to look for new ways the entire campus can be involved to help address the issue, and welcome the dialog about this important topic at Berkeley.”

Nina Nixon said that although her son was on medication for bipolar disorder, his medication was not coupled with adequate care. Nixon often expressed his frustrations about campus services while speaking on the phone with his mother. She said the family signed him up for UC SHIP when he entered UC Berkeley in fall 2012 but canceled it during his second semester and decided to rely on private insurance when the services did not satisfy them.

“There’s no continuity of care, and for mental health, you really need that,” she said. “People need to be aware that a lot of students are in crisis. This could have been avoided if the resources had been available.”

Mental health has come to the forefront of campus discussion in recent months. ASUC Senator Briana Mullen, who was working with Nixon on improving mental health services before his death, hosted a town hall last week to discuss how the campus could better address mental health and help struggling students. Many students at the town hall demanded more access to mental health services.

“From what I’ve seen, University Health Services is doing some great work, but we really need to see a much larger push from the campus to make this a huge issue,” Mullen said. “We need to look at the real situation, and the real situation is students like Maliq, who may be seeking services but find them difficult to navigate.”

Mullen agreed with Thomas Nixon that one prominent issue is understaffing, which limits student access to mental health services.

Two counselors who specialize in LGBT and African American issues were hired this summer, according to Jeff Prince, director of counseling and psychological services at UC Berkeley. He told The Daily Californian last week that University Health Services made an effort to increase its visibility on campus this year by placing counselors in the dorms and in Cesar Chavez Student Center — an effort funded in part by a $600,000 grant the California Mental Health Services Authority awarded UC Berkeley in 2011.

Still, Nixon’s parents and others are demanding major improvements to service. The Nixons traveled from Rancho Cucamonga in Southern California to address the regents. They said they hope to meet with campus officials in the near future and were joined by Nixon’s grandmother, aunts and uncle.

Nixon advocated mental health services in his time as a student and volunteered with Mullen’s office. Nixon’s uncle, Michael Floyd, said he hoped to improve the campus’ services to honor his nephew’s work.

“I am here to let you know that no matter how long it takes no matter how tough it might be and no matter how many times I hear the word ‘no,’ I will not rest until his dream becomes reality,” Floyd said.

Libby Rainey is the lead higher education reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @rainey_l.