Evidence of increased demand for mental health services presented to UC Board of Regents

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UC Regent Norman Pattiz, right, can be heard asking a colleague if he can hold her breasts in a recently released audio recording.

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SAN FRANCISCO — Two UC medical professionals presented the UC Board of Regents with evidence demonstrating the increased demand for student access to campus mental health services at its meeting Thursday.

Elizabeth Gong-Guy, executive director of UCLA counseling and psychological services, along with Regina Fleming, medical director of the UC Student Health Insurance Plan within the UC Office of the President, presented graphs showing a 37-percent spike of UC students utilizing counseling and psychological services from 2006 to 2013.

“This is real — students are having difficulty accessing mental health services,” Fleming said. She explained that students are now waiting longer for appointments while getting fewer sessions and are increasingly referred to off-campus health services.

Both explained the need for additional resources to support these services. According to Gong-Guy and Fleming, nationwide and international patterns reflect a steadily rising number of students with mental distress.

UCLA saw a 23-percent increase of students using counseling and psychological services last year — a pattern reflected across all UC campuses, according to Gong-Guy. She described how many of the students who enroll in the university have never experienced an academic setback, and when it happens, the despair can become life-endangering.

“Many of the students who make their way to our counseling centers are seasoned perfectionists,” Gong-Guy said at the meeting.

Medication claims of 2013-14 from UC SHIP records showed that students filled more prescriptions for mental health medications than any other drug class last year.

Although there is a rise in students seeking medical help, Gong-Guy noted that one cause for celebration was the decline of the stigma around seeking help with mental health issues.

“The focus has been academic achievement — the focus has not necessarily been on emotional self-care,” Gong-Guy said in an interview.

Some of the suggestions Gong-Guy and Fleming presented to the regents were to supplement student mental health services by expanding team-based care, expand the use of innovative technology such as Telehealth and have multidisciplinary teams of professionals providing support for patients.

Fleming noted she is a part of a group consisting of directors from counseling centers, directors of student health centers, psychiatrists and some staff from the student affairs office within UCOP. The group works together to discuss staffing and funding strategies and has also started reaching out to student groups to understand which approaches students support.

“One severely ill student has a huge impact on the campus,” Gong-Guy said. “That person’s crisis reverberates across the campus, probably 100-fold.”

Further discussion regarding student access to mental health services was postponed until the November regents meeting to provide time for Gong-Guy, Fleming and others helping with the issue to gather potential solutions.

Jean Lee covers higher education. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @missjeanlee.