UC Santa Barbara’s Associated Students Office of the President hosted a mental health town hall on Jan. 23 to give students the opportunity to engage with on-campus mental health professionals and voice concerns pertaining to mental health resources on campus.
The town hall was held in Corwin Pavilion and hosted panelists from UCSB’s Counseling & Psychological Services (C.A.P.S.), Health and Wellness, Campus Advocacy, Resources & Education (C.A.R.E.), Student Health Service and A.S. President Gurleen Pabla.
“Our generation continues to destigmatize conversations around mental health, and this event is further proof of that,” Pabla said, kicking off the town hall. “I just want you all to know that mental health resources to me are a necessity, and our campus will continue to work to ensure that this need can be fulfilled for all students.”
A.S. Office of the President moderators asked the panelists questions that were sent in via survey before the event occurred, and then attendees broke off into focus groups to discuss mental health concerns and resources with specific panelists.
Panelists were first asked to define mental health and its importance.
“Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, physical, as well as social well-being. It affects how we think, feel and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress and adversity, relate to others and make choices,” C.A.P.S. Director Brian Olowude said.
Olowude added that identity and family history also add to individual experiences of mental health.
“Things that contribute to one’s mental health: cultural backgrounds, life experiences such as trauma or abuse, systematic racism and bias treatment, family history of mental health problems, generational trauma, as well as stigma in seeking mental health,” he continued.
Olowude noted in a response to a later question that UCSB’s diverse C.A.P.S. staff is uniquely suited to address students’ mental health needs, and although the C.A.P.S. program structure is mostly for short-term therapy needs, the entity works to place students with outside therapists and provide short-term counseling.
“There are some legitimate logistical issues and just being able to serve as many students as we possibly can — you can’t see them long-term,” Assistant Clinical Director of C.A.P.S. Janet Osimo said when asked why C.A.P.S. can’t provide long-term therapy.
When panelists were asked about mental health stigma, UCSB’s Alcohol & Drug Program Director Jackie Kurta said that stigmatization is an especially pertinent issue for substance-use disorders.
“There’s still a stigma in seeking help for substance-use concerns. And, just a reminder to all of you that substance-use disorders are mental health disorders. In the classification of mental health disorders, substance-use disorders is a subset of that,” she said. “So many students who are struggling with alcohol use or other drug use often have a co-occurring concern about depressive symptoms or anxiety for some trauma or some other mental health concerns.”
Kurta encouraged students facing substance-use issues to seek help through the school’s program, which is about treatment, not punishment, she said. She then added, during a later question, that students should take advantage of UCSB’s free services.
“We all know, once we leave the environment of UC Santa Barbara, not all services that you might seek for mental health support will be free. So, we always want to encourage students to take advantage of the opportunity that you have here on campus,” she said.
Briana Miller, the director of C.A.R.E., answered the panel’s last question — what aspect of on-campus mental health outreach is most important — by stating that student employees were an invaluable resource.
“The most valuable resource that we have is our student employees, for being in the student communities, for doing events and programming … and helping inform our curriculum to make sure that the content and the things that we are providing resonate with students and are relevant,” Miller said.
A version of this article appeared on p. 4 of the Jan. 26, 2023, print edition of the Daily Nexus.