Amid conversation about mental health, UC Berkeley dean of students shares his story

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Amid ongoing efforts to improve mental health resources on campus, the UC Berkeley associate vice chancellor and dean of students released a video Wednesday that details his personal struggle of grappling with suicidal thoughts as a high school student.

Joseph Greenwell, who has served as dean of students since last spring, described struggling with severe loneliness and his sexual identity while in high school. On Jan. 18, 1986, he said in the video, he attempted suicide — an “almost pivotal” moment in his life that he decided to share partly in order to show the widespread nature of mental health challenges.

“Most people probably have some form of mental wellness challenge at some point in their time, if not routinely,” Greenwell said in the video.

Greenwell highlighted the Tang Center’s counseling and psychological services, an online wellness kit and the confidential care advocate — hired to serve survivors and those who have experienced gendered violence — as some examples of wellness resources at UC Berkeley.

Moving forward, Greenwell said in an email, students face the challenge of being aware of the various resources that exist and how they intersect. He noted his and others’ work in helping connect these resources through the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Student Mental Health.

Some students have praised services such as free counseling and the confidential advocate but have also urged for more of these resources.

The release of Greenwell’s video comes in the wake of growing concern about mental health on campus. In this spring’s ASUC elections, voters passed the Wellness Fee Referendum, which aims to put student fees toward the funding of more wellness programs on campus.

A survey of UC Berkeley graduate students, which was released this month, found that the surveyed sample exhibited rates of depression that surpassed 50 percent for some subsets, with students who self-identified their race or ethnicity as “other,” doctoral students, and lesbian, gay and bisexual students tending to score as more depressed.

Greenwell identified listening to students’ struggles and building community as keys to bolstering mental health.

Looking back on his own experiences, he said he would have benefited from confidential counseling, as well as a center similar to UC Berkeley’s Gender Equity Resource Center that could have given him a greater sense of belonging.

“I had a misconceived notion that I was the only person feeling disconnected and grappling with my sexuality, when in reality that was not true,” Greenwell said in an email. “I believe it is important to share our histories and lessons learned in various ways to reach our students where they are.”

Melissa Wen is the executive news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @melissalwen.