Friday, May 24

Assembly bill aims to fund mental health at California colleges

Students are advocating for a bill that may establish a $40 million fund that could double mental health funding for California college campuses.

Assembly Bill 2017, introduced by Assembly member Kevin McCarty in February, aims to establish a grant program that would improve access and increase funding for mental health services in California Community College, California State University and University of California systems.

AB 2017 passed the Assembly Health Committee on Tuesday, said Bryan Singh, legislative director of McCarty’s office, in an email statement. Kevin Sabo, president of the University of California Student Association, said he thinks the bill will go to the higher education committee sometime within the next few weeks.

As part of the campaign, AB 2017 will establish the College Mental Health Services Trust Account from $40 million of surplus funding from the state mental health fund, according to the bill’s fact sheet.

If the bill passes, each college will be able to apply for as much funding as is currently allocated to its mental health resources, capped at $5 million. The bill specifies campuses must submit an annual report detailing how they will spend the grant money.

“Student mental health success equals student success at our campuses,” McCarty said. “AB 2017 will have a strong impact in increasing access and linkages to mental health services throughout our campuses.”

Last year, the UC approved a 5 percent increase in annual students fees to fund a mental health services expansion, totaling an additional $18 million in funding. According to a UC press release, 50 percent of the increase would be used to hire 85 more clinicians systemwide by next fall.

UCSA, a coalition of students and student governments that advocates for issues relevant to students across all UC campuses launched a #HowAreYou campaign in the summer of 2015. The initiative calls for increased access, diversity and outreach in student mental health services, according to its website.

Sabo said AB 2017 will be a main point of discussion at the upcoming UCSA Student Lobby Conference later this month. The conference, an annual event held in Sacramento, aims to give UC students the opportunity to develop lobbying skills and engage with legislators about higher education issues in California.

Since 2007, UC counseling service centers have experienced a 54 percent increase in students who seek access to mental health services, according to a UC press release. Overall, 13 percent of UC students received counseling services last year.

Students at UCLA are allowed six visits to UCLA Counseling and Psychological Services per academic year, and the average wait time between visits is four weeks, said Ria Jain, co-campaign manager for All of Us, an undergraduate student government Student Wellness Commission campaign.

Tanner Kelly, Undergraduate Students Association Council External Vice President state affairs advisor, said he thinks there should be a plan to retain CAPS counselors once the UC hires them.

“Funding should be tied to retention and student involvement,” said Kelly, a fourth-year political science student. He added he thinks valuable time and money will be wasted if students are repeatedly reassigned counselors.

Jain, a candidate for the USAC external vice president position and third-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student added she thinks counselors at UCLA should reflect the student body population in both experience and identity.

“Students should be involved in every level of decision-making when it comes to hiring and money allocation,” she said. “The process needs to be more transparent for students, since we are the ones receiving the care.”

Jain added she hopes to see additional satellite centers for mental health across campus and on the Hill.

Kelly said he thinks the UC Office of the President and state legislature should prioritize mental health services through the establishment of a working group.

“There is no easy solution, but a working group brings light to the issue and gets people to start talking together,” Kelly said.

More than 50 UCLA students and 26 legislators in the LA area will attend the UCSA Student Lobby Conference in Sacramento from April 16 to 18 and further discuss ways to increase mental health funding.

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Science & Health editor

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  • Tulo

    This is a step in the right direction. Mental health is underaddressed.