CSU Long Beach makes mental health a priority

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California State University Long Beach Public Affairs

The “Go Beach” sign on the CSU Long Beach campus.

On the phone, listening to his friend’s cries of despair, Presley Dalman had to make a difficult decision: call the campus police or hope for the best.

As a student at California State University, Long Beach majoring in health sciences and community health education, Dalman knew what she had to do.

“My best friend was in this crisis, and they were going to hurt each other,” said Dalman, who graduated from college this spring. “The only thing I could do was call the police, which is the last thing I wanted to do. I wanted, you know, I wanted to be there. I wanted them to be met by someone who was really care about them and who can really talk to them, but there was no option for that. I had to call the police.”

The friend later said the police presence “made it worse” and resulted in a stay in the hospital’s psychiatric unit.

Calling the police for help is the only option for students trying to help a friend threatening to harm themselves or others. CSU Long Beach wants to change that.

A few years ago, Beth Lesen, vice president of student affairs at the Long Beach campus, set out to create a comprehensive campus-wide mental health strategic plan. She started by looking all over the country such plans in other universities.

Lesen said she couldn’t find a single campus with a specific mental health strategic plan, so Long Beach, a campus of about 40,000 students, wrote hers. This is believed to be the first plan of its kind in the country. Long Beach’s plan includes 60 actions focused on reducing or eliminating health equity disparities, using technology to reach students, and promoting strategies that consider diversity and cultural backgrounds students. Although some action items began last spring, and others begin this coming academic year, not every item will be fully adopted until 2025.

One of these action items, coming out this year includes redesigning the response students receive when the police are notified that they are experiencing a mental health crisis or emergency. The initiative is the mobile crisis unit and employs two mental health services professionals, such as psychologists, to the University Police Department to respond to psychiatric emergencies on campus. Lesen said Long Beach would be the first California state in the 23-campus system to offer this response to psychiatric emergencies.

The initiative comes at a time when government and private funding is focused on expanding mental health care for students.

Fidel Vasquez, a rising junior and member of the Long Beach Student Associate, which is student government, said students have been asking for and wanting these kinds of changes in mental health support for some time.

“Everyone is really excited about this shift in approach, especially our communities of color,” Lesen said, adding that the campus received a $400,000 grant from the Addiction and Mental Health Services Administration. of the US Department of Health and Human Services to employ the mind. campus police department medical professionals. Students of color especially advocated for fewer police to respond to these types of emergencies, she added.

“We don’t have a single overall price, and the Mobile Crisis Unit is just one piece,” Lesen said. “With over 60 initiatives, we anticipate this will be a significant investment that will be funded in a variety of ways, including but not limited to grants, private donations and university stipends. We believe this is critical to the well-being and success of our students and worth prioritizing, especially now.

Lesen part of the funding is still unclear, but the university remains committed to the plan, “It’s about committing to figuring out how to fund each piece,” she said. “There are a few initiatives that I still don’t know where I’m going to get the funding for, but it’s my job to find it.”

In the 2021 National College Health Assessment, 86% of Long Beach students reported moderate or high stress in the past 12 months. Nearly 30% of students reported the death of a family member, loved one or friend from Covid-19, and 57% said they had witnessed discrimination or hostility in online or in person because of someone’s race or ethnicity.

In addition to deploying mental health professionals as part of a police response, Long Beach’s mental health actions include a peer-to-peer text-messaging program that employs college students to contact others during times high stress like finals. Lesen said student mentors receive training to handle conversations independently and know when to seek professional help or supervision.

She said a pilot version of the program this spring involved reaching 1,400 students and had a response rate of nearly 50%.

“If you send an email, you’re lucky if 30% of students open it, but about 50% of those students actually responded,” Lesen said, adding that some just said they were fine. . Others, on the other hand, said that a family member had died or that they were struggling with classes and anxiety. A spring 2022 on-campus survey of nearly 4,000 Long Beach students found that 2,069 of them were taking less than 15 credits per semester for their “own well-being”.

“The numbers show you how much mental health affects academics and also the quality of life of students,” Dalman said.

Some students just need someone to listen to them, while others need more help, but too often they don’t know about the resources available to them and don’t seek them out on their own, a Lesen said.

The peer texting initiative will expand to approximately 11,000 new students this fall. Lesen said the campus plans to expand the program to all students by spring 2023.

As for Dalman’s friend, she said they were much better.

“They’re in therapy, which has really helped them,” she said. “We all do better when we are surrounded by people who truly care about our growth.”

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