California State University, Fullerton

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Helping Students Cope

CSU Initiative Grant Funds Mental Health Program

Dec. 13, 2012

For some university students, the concerns of work, school and family can be overwhelming. Cal State Fullerton students are not immune to stressors that can trigger feelings of helplessness and depression.

"Some 10-15 percent of the students we see walking in for counseling are suicidal, seeking help with issues at home, grieving over a death of a friend or loved one, and economics," said Mary Becerra, director of health education and promotion in the Student Health and Counseling Center.

The Student Health and Counseling Center also is seeing more students with mental health issues, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and schizophrenia, said Beccera.

To help students, the California State University established a mental health initiative that funds campus programs to increase awareness and assistance for students. The initiative is funded through CalMHSA Proposition 63 funding.

The CSUF program, funded with a $402,513 CSU grant, focuses on prevention strategies that address the mental health needs of students through three main areas: training, peer-to-peer programming and suicide prevention programs, said Becerra.

"This is a very timely grant and a great model," said Howard Wang, associate vice president for student affairs in charge of the Student Health and Counseling Center. "From recent news reports, national levels of stress among colleges students is increasing as has suicides. This grant, with its multiprong approach, is geared to all of us working together to help students.

"It's important, as well, that we have included not only students and staff in the effort but also faculty members," Wang stressed, pointing out that faculty have expressed concern and have stepped up for training. "All of us need training to know how to handle certain things as they come up, therefore, this training is very important," Wang said.


To reach out broadly, the Division of Student Affairs is joining with Academic Affairs, reaching out to not only staff but to faculty who see students on a regular basis and can be among those reaching out to assist students.

"We want faculty and staff members to be aware of signs of distress that a student may be suffering and of the services on campus that are available to assist students," said Becerra. "So we are partnering with the Academic Affairs Division with the goal of identifying and training 50 faculty liaisons to spread the word among their fellow faculty and staff members ... to be kind of an expert for their area. Getting 50 faculty members to step forward to be part of the effort has not been difficult to do."

"We're the only campus that has developed this model," said Wang, giving credit to Jennifer Faust, associate vice president for academic affairs, for helping create faculty interest and participation. "Faculty have become move aware of the need to help students struggling with stress. They have been very supportive. We're hoping to get this effort built into the retention, tenure and promotion process for sustainability."

The faculty liaisons will receive broad-based training on mental health issues, including symptoms of students in distress, beginning in January. During the week of Dec. 3, faculty and staff members were sent a survey, the responses of which, Wang and Becerra hope will help to target university skills and priorities in expanding efforts already in the works and planned. The survey, required by the grant, was designed by Laura Chandler, a lecturer in health science whose research is focused on adolescent and college student health. She has served as director of health education and promotion with the Student Health and Counseling Center.

The Student Health and Counseling Center also

  • will train its own mental health and health professions on suicide assessment, critical incident stress management and suicide risk behaviors;
  • create and distribute to faculty liaisons and student affairs staff monthly e-newsletters addressing current data, trends and hot topics in college mental health; • create and distribute campus-based manuals and protocols for responding to students in distress; and
  • provide training webinars on a variety of mental health topics to faculty, staff and student leaders.

Peer-to-Peer Programming

In addition to faculty and staff focus on the issue, the grant underwrites a program that provides information and helps students develop the skills to help their peers. The program, called "Step UP! Bystander Intervention Program," originated at the University of Arizona, said Becerra. "Step Up" provides educational workshops and peer-led presentations on mental health issues that can be given in classes, before student and university organizations and special programs, she added.

Brief, web-based educational tools — such as videos — on college mental health issues will be created and posted on YouTube, campus portals and various department websites as another means to reach students who can then use and share the information or seek help for themselves.

Already instituted on campus is a student chapter of Active Minds, a national organization geared towards young adult mental health activists.

Suicide Prevention

"As we enhance awareness of signs and the current programs that are available to help students, we also are looking at areas of vulnerability and developing signage that provides information and targeted training for potential first responders," said Becerra. Suicide prevention hotline signage is being planned for the campus parking structures.

The Student Health and Counseling Center will provide "Question, Persuade, Refer" suicide prevention training to faculty, staff and students, as well as implement a social marketing campaign reaching out to students to help reduce the stigma of seek help. The center also is developing and distributing a post-vention plan for use following a suicide or attempt on campus.

As part of the grant, the campus also is reaching out to parents, so they can help. As part of that, Becerra says they have reached out and are working with the new parent program, increasing awareness and knowledge on how to help students thrive at college.

"We can't turn a blind eye," she explained. "We need to begin conversations ... bring other parties into the mix to make sure that we keep students safe through their time on campus, through graduation and help make sure that they are ready to function well in their future careers."

By: Pamela McLaren, 657-278-4852

Tags:  Campus Updates