A recent RAND Corporation study found that more University of California students have been receiving mental health care following an increase in state funding for mental health services on campuses.
California Mental Health Services Authority (CalMHSA), a statewide mental health initiative funded by the 2004 Mental Health Services Act (Prop. 63), implemented new mental health service programs at California’s public colleges in 2010, asking the Santa Monica-based think tank RAND Corporation to conduct an evaluation of the statewide programs over the course of a year. The RAND report indicates the percentage of students accessing mental health treatment increased by about 13 percent from 2013 to 2014. UCSB’s Counseling and Psychological Services (C.A.P.S.) confirms an increase in the number of students it has been treating since receiving CalMHSA funding in 2011.
RAND Corporation associate policy researcher and lead author of the study J. Scott Ashwood said the increase indicates more students are going to counseling services to receive necessary help.
“A lot of students at UCs and other systems experience mental health disorders, and it’s also the case that most of those students don’t receive services or treatment for those mental health disorders,” Ashwood said. “We think an increase of 13 percent is a really positive increase because it means that more students are getting treatment for these conditions that they weren’t getting treatment for before.”
Ashwood said there could be more than one reason campuses treated more students between 2013 and 2014 than in previous years, such as an increase in the amount of insured students due to the Affordable Care Act, but he believes CalMHSA funding for campus mental health services is the primary reason for the increase.
“We’re pretty confident that some of this increase, at least — and possibly all of it — is due to CalMHSA’s investment,” Ashwood said.
C.A.P.S. director Jeanne Stanford said UCSB’s mental health services center has seen a 20 percent increase in the amount of students it serves every year since it first received CalMHSA grant funding in 2011.
“I never knew what money would do for mental health services until we got the grant,” Stanford said. “It made us visible and it made mental health visible. None of that, or maybe a quarter of that, would have been done without the CalMHSA funds.”
C.A.P.S. mental health specialist Gladys Koscak, who helped decide how to spend CalMHSA grant funding, said C.A.P.S. used the state money mostly for outreach, such as the center’s #SaySomething campaign, which launched in 2012.
“[The grant] gave us the opportunity to have money for outreach and marketing materials that we typically don’t have money to be able to purchase,” Koscak said. “That really helped spread the word both about our services and also about mental health in general.”
C.A.P.S. psychologist Janet Osimo, who also helped allocate CalMHSA grant funds, said the additional money allowed C.A.P.S. to develop a mobile phone app and an online interactive screening program alongside its #SaySomething campaign, which she said encouraged students to access C.A.P.S. over the past few years.
“I think what the extra funding does for us is it really helps address the unspoken need out there that we’re not aware of so we can start opening our doors more,” Osimo said. “Fortunately, we’ve been able to continue that.”
Stanford said she hopes the increase in the number of students that C.A.P.S. has treated since 2011 leads university policy makers to give even more funding for campus mental health services.
“I hope it increases the allotment and that it increases what the universities are willing to give to student mental health,” Stanford said.
Stanford also said she hopes to see administration designate more campus space to C.A.P.S. to meet the university’s increasing demand for mental health treatment.
“You can’t just increase the numbers in the schools or build more residence halls without thinking about mental health,” Stanford said. “It’s about finding the space for mental health and wellness services on a campus and making it a policy that every campus has to increase their ability to provide services.”
Fourth-year economics and sociology double major Siavash Zohoori said the RAND Corporation findings will demonstrate to the UC Board of Regents that increased funding toward campus mental health services allows universities to treat more students.
“I think that the study was a necessary step that a lot of activists were waiting for so that we could prove to the Regents and the policy makers that the funding is really necessary and will be effective,” Zohoori said. “Increased funding will actually benefit students.”