AS Hosts Annual Mental Health Town Hall to Discuss Availability of Mental Health Resources

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Photo Courtesy of CAPS

Han Do

AS Beat Reporter

On Tuesday Feb. 1, the Associated Students (AS) Mental Health Commission hosted an annual town hall to discuss UC Santa Barbara (UCSB)’s current availability of mental health resources and identify potential areas for improvement. 

The panelists included the director of Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS), CAPS mental health professionals, the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, members of UCSB’s Mental Health Task Force, members of AS, and other university administrators. 

Some of the most important resources shared in this event included the launch of a new telehealth service offered through CAPS, the availability of social workers at the Student Health Center, and the programs through Health and Wellness that offer opportunities for student engagement and self-care. These programs address student needs by strengthening individual resilience and providing a community support system.

“Individual resilience occurs in the context of the community,” said Sharleen O’Brien, associate dean, and director of UCSB Health and Wellness. “A community support system [is essential] because no one person can be fully prepared to deal with all of the challenges.”

The town hall began by having each panelist introduce themselves, offer their definition of mental health, and discuss why they think mental health is important. 

“[Mental health] is foundational to your ability to be successful as students, and an important part of your development,” said Margaret Klawunn, the vice-chancellor of Student Affairs. 

“Mental health takes place in the brain [and] the mind, parts of our body that can not be transplanted, [like] hearts, kidneys, or hands,” offered Dr. Brian Olowude, a psychologist at CAPS. 

One important goal of the town hall was to ensure students know the full range of available services, some of which may be underused because students might not know about them.

Speaking on new changes at CAPS, Dr. Olowude mentioned that this quarter, CAPS entered into a contract with a new company that will hopefully enhance the overall availability of mental health services. 

According to Dr. Olowude, this program offers telehealth as well as chat and text services, which are free to all students regardless of insurance status. Each student who signs up is able to access eight sessions that are 30 minutes long, and they can request more if need be. Students who are interested can reach out to CAPS for more information.

“So far we’ve had a good response from our students accessing that [resource],” said Dr. Olowude. 

One point of focus during discussions were resources that aren’t clinical but have the potential to make a big impact. 

For example, Health and Wellness offers mindfulness meditation groups which, said O’Brien, is about “building resilience and building a strong relationship with yourself.”

The Well-Being Summer Book Club, body image groups, and sleep programs are also important resources, all of which can be found on the Health and Wellness website. 

“[We find that sometimes] people just need a place to come and talk and be with each other,” added O’Brien.

Services offered at Health and Wellness are not clinical treatment; however, there are professional staff who are trained to discuss mental health issues, as well as peer interns who help facilitate different group sessions.

A few panelists pointed out that basic needs and financial crisis resources — although not directly mental health resources — are a significant step toward addressing the issue. 

In addition, the Alcohol & Drug Program (ADP) helps students who are dealing with issues related to substance abuse. 

“They do work from a harm reduction model, so if someone’s not completely ready to address the issue, [that’s okay],” said Dr. Olowude. 

One resource brought up during the discussion was mental health services offered by social workers at Student Health

“Sometimes people don’t know that social workers are [also] licensed therapists. They [often] think of social workers as being in a different category,” said O’Brien. 

A sentiment present throughout the town hall discussion and Q&A session was the importance of using a holistic, multi-pronged approach when tackling mental health issues. 

“Students aren’t always aware of the ecosystem of services that exist and how they interplay with one another,” said Brianna Conway-Miller, director at Campus Advocacy, Resources, and Education (CARE). 

Support could look like academic advising or accommodation for disabled students, “low-level interventions and community engagement that can mitigate mental health before it rises to the level of individualized treatment,” she added. 

The UCSB Student Wellbeing website was created as an attempt to compile the full range of resources that are available outside of clinical or traditional therapy and counseling. 

“The next step, [which we are] working on, is to have a group of students take a look at the website and [give feedback] on what works and what doesn’t, so that we can make upgrades and get that information out more widely to people,” said O’Brien in the Q&A session. 

The key is helping people to know and discern when you need clinical support from when you need support that can come from other channels. 

At the end of the Q&A breakout rooms, everyone regrouped for a few final remarks. 

“The challenges brought on by COVID-19 and the Great Resignation have affected almost every single aspect of mental health services,” said Dr. Olowude. At one point, CAPS was short seven clinicians, and recruitment had been difficult as well. 

“We very quickly pivot to telemental health when [things] shut down in March of 2020, and we’ve continued to recognize that telemental health is here to stay,” said Dr. Olowude.