UC mental health services desperately require upgrade

CAMPUS ISSUES: University of California Student Association C- ranking of campus means that administrators at all levels must join students in fighting for improvements.

The campus should worry as much about its mental health grade as students are worrying about their upcoming midterm grades. The University of California Student Association just awarded UC Berkeley a C- in providing mental health services. Universitywide conversations surrounding mental health are becoming more important every day. Any progress will require all levels of the UC system working toward better culture and services regarding mental health. This fight must also include campus and university administrators.

But students on the Berkeley campus have risen to this occasion. Earlier this semester, the ASUC succeeded in getting the Student Health Insurance Plan to serve dependents again. In addition, this week, the ASUC endorsed the 2016 Mental Health Action Plan, authored by former ASUC senator Briana Mullen and UC Berkeley’s Mental Health Coalition. On a financially struggling campus where administrators are often loath to dole out money, student involvement is paramount to progress. And though we are baffled by REST zone prices, their implementation is but another example of students stepping up and trying to improve mental health climate on campus.

The Mental Health Action Plan advocates for many much-needed developments on campus, including extended Tang Center hours, mental health education for first-year students, further mental health training and, generally, increased awareness, among a host of other important recommendations.  

At UC Berkeley, mental health issues are often normalized to the point of desensitization. As stress builds up, students talk about their imminent breakdowns nonchalantly, as though overwhelming stress is just another inevitable part of the UC Berkeley experience. Self-care does not enjoy the same level of normalization — certain stigmas continue to dissuade students from seeking help. We applaud the efforts by the ASUC and mental health coalition to adjust these perceptions.

Mental health issues stem from all walks of student life, from the academic pressures of competitive classes that often grade on a curve to the social pressures inherent in living in such close proximity to peers. Fixing these problems will require a massive culture change on campus — something that will surely be slow in coming.

This culture change will not only involve students. The faculty at UC Berkeley has much power over the way students deal with mental health, and teachers need to be aware of the problems students face when they plan their syllabi. Moreover, the Mental Health Action Plan recommends that graduate student instructors, professors and staff receive mental health training, which would definitely improve faculty awareness. Professors and lecturers could even include a list of mental health resources in all of their syllabi. Simple actions such as these would make big changes.

Yet, if all the students who needed mental health services were using them, campus resources might be overrun. Increased awareness will require increased funding to expand services as demand similarly expands. Campus administrators must make mental health a budgetary priority, even amid the current deficit.

UC Berkeley is not alone, though. The UCSA report gave an average grade of C across all nine undergraduate campuses. Mental health is clearly a structural problem that exists on a massive scale — across California. It’s time for the UC Office of the President to recognize this fact and act accordingly. Students shouldn’t have to shoulder this burden alone.

Many on-campus mental health resources can be found at the University Health Services website.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Senior Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.

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