CAPS Mental Health Peers have been hosting events for Health Awareness Week to increase the visibility of mental health resources on campus and encourage more student discussion on these issues.

During the four-day long series, from Monday until today, CAPS hosted a variety of activities including free massages, painting, making stress balls, mural writing and an inflatable obstacle course. Each day was structured around highlighting a different aspect of mental health to highlight the importance of psychological and physical wellness.

The week launched with “Stamp Out Stigma” Day on Monday, during which students painted over mental health stigmas written on a board. The week will conclude on Thursday with an event for students to meet CAPS psychologists, Mental Health Peers, Gauchos for Recovery, CARE, Active Minds and Health & Wellness.

Fourth-year global studies major Aaron Barranco said people could benefit by participating in the event since they have generous offerings of goodies.

“Participants of our events will gain all kinds of good things like free food, [and] free massages,” Barranco said. “They’ll be able to come up and talk to the peers about anything. Basically they can gain more knowledge and more awareness and have a little fun while doing it.”

According to Mental Health Peer William Leu, stigma surrounding mental health issues often prevents people from seeking treatment, and these issues may become more serious if left untreated.

“The way I like to think about it is, if people go to the gym to work on their physical health, they should definitely come to CAPS to deal and help with their mental health,” Leu said. “It’s important because mental health does affect a lot of college students.”

Leu said seeking out resources to address mental health concerns is a simple but crucial step students can take toward building a successful college career and ensuring they are “happy, healthy and … taking care of themselves.”

CAPS psychologist Dr. Meridith Merchant said although seeking treatment for mental health concerns is starting to become less stigmatized, it is still very common to avoid discussing psychological struggles.

“I think it’s important to help normalize that everyone has a bad day. Everyone has a good day. We’re all generally social beings and want to have relationships with others and sometimes it can be supportive to talk to someone who is objective and willing to listen in a way that those closest to you aren’t able to,” Merchant said. “It doesn’t mean that you’re crazy or that you can’t manage your life on your own, but everyone needs a little bit of help sometimes.”

According to Merchant, students are starting to recognize and use the mental health resources at UCSB more and more.

“Friends are telling their friends about how just going to one session and talking to someone has been supportive, gave them a new outlook, re-invigorated them to work toward their goals or helped them to feel more balanced,” Merchant said. “More students are coming in and knocking on the doors.”

Currently, CAPS is under stress as demand for its services is greater than the resources it can currently supply. CAPS recently received an increase in funding through a larger lock-in fee, as voted on by students during Associated Students elections earlier this quarter. Merchant said the recent fee increase will help CAPS meet the growing demand for its resources.

“We’re short-staffed now,” Merchant said. “We’re meeting the need in quite a great way. Students voted to increase the [lock-in] fee so that we can hire more staff and meet the needs even better and so that we can serve more students because there is a greater need.”

Merchant joined the CAPS staff this year after the UCSB Black Student Union demanded the campus hire “two full-time Black psychologists” to support students. She said it is important for students of all cultural representations to feel comfortable with the counselors, psychologists and other mental health professionals they are meeting with.

“It’s important to be able to connect to your clinician and everyone is not going to connect to everyone,” Merchant said. “Walking into a room and seeing someone who looks like you can sometimes feel very validating, and I think it’s absolutely necessary to have diversity of staff.”

Gladys Koscak, mental health specialist and mental health peer supervisor for CAPS, said she hopes this week will normalize the discussion around mental health and its effect on people.

“We really just want to break down the stigma so people can get the help that they need,” Koscak said. “There are so many people who struggle with mental health themselves or have someone very close to them who is struggling, but it’s just not something that we openly talk about so having events like this is very non-threatening,”

According to Koscak, the increased funding from spring elections will help maintain and expand their services, particularly programming for suicide prevention. Since these efforts are currently funded by a temporary state grant, the new student fee is all the more necessary for CAPS to provide resources.

“The grant that I’m currently funded under is ending at the end of this year, so we wanted to be able to keep the Say Something campaign funded afterwards,” Koscak. “We also want to be able to keep paying for the 24/7 hotline we have right now, and just need additional funds to keep that going.”

Koscak said the funding increase would also diversify the staff and add new members that can relate to a larger proportion of students, especially those who speak other languages.

“[We wanted] to increase the linguistic diversity of our staff now that a large portion of students are first generation, and there is a lot more diversity and we just want to be able to grow with our campus and have more availability for our students,” Koscak said.



-Lannhu Khuat contributed to this article.