Monday, May 25

Sandra Wenceslao: UCLA Residential Life should provide direct support for mental health

A mental health advisory board could help expand and improve programs on the Hill aimed at helping students de-stress adjust to college life without being referred to Counseling and Psychological Services. (Daily Bruin file photo)

Attending UCLA is an honor because of its incredible popularity, selectivity and prestige. However, in exchange for attending such a top-notch school, students often put their mental health at risk with sleepless nights spent studying and stressing.

Mental health will always be an important issue among college students because of that stress, and UCLA has not devoted enough appropriate resources to support its students. Demand for mental health resources has increased at UCLA, said Rebecca Kendall, a university spokesperson. And although mental health resources on campus may need some improvement, they’re at least available. But resources for students living on the Hill are still sorely lacking.

While the Office of Residential Life has the resources to provide more services, the only option students currently have on the Hill is a conversation with a staff member, rather than a counselor who knows the ins and outs of mental health. First-year students usually need help because they undergo major, life-changing transitions. Thus, the best time to reach out to students about mental health resources is during their first year on campus. By offering resources on the Hill, trained staff wouldn’t have to redirect students to resources on campus like they do now.

Specifically, Residential Life staff should create an advisory board primarily focused on promoting students’ mental health. The board can offer workshops and peer counseling as permanent fixtures instead of passing and temporary events.

The pieces are already there. Residential Life has designated general representatives who are trained to assess the needs of students within their communities on a variety of topics, like academic support and leadership. The free range given to these representatives allows them to focus on and prioritize certain issues, like mental health. This can also allow them to staff and create programs for students – again, like mental health services.

Residential Life staffers are trained to support students’ issues the best way they can, according to Brian MacDonald, director of Residential Education. They are a reliable first point of contact for students who may be experiencing difficulties or challenges in their mental health. Having resident assistants and professional staff is a crucial step in getting help, but it isn’t the only step.

Having a chat with your RA may not be enough to help a student navigate mental illness stigma. When an RA sees the need for the student to reach out to other resources on campus, it does not necessarily ensure the student will actually make it past the Hill and to the daunting number of mental health organizations.

Proposed solutions to these issues have ranged from adding a position on the Hill strictly for the representation of students’ mental health to expanding Counseling and Psychological Services on campus. However, the most efficient way to address mental health on the Hill would be to form an available support team for students living there. Therefore, Residential Life should create a board made up of general representatives and other applicable staff who are dedicated solely to the mental health of students.

Having a central board supporting counselors on the Hill would eliminate the middleman, so to speak, in the way of receiving direct help. After all, Residential Life might not be able to help all the students that come its way, and it doesn’t make sense for it to simply refer students to services like CAPS. Some issues may be a lot more complicated than what Residential Life staff is prepared for, but an office focused on the support of mental health can aid in many situations that arise.

A board of staff members trained to support students would also be better able to create programs that focus on the mental health of students. A permanent office staffed with continuous student support could offer peer counseling, giving CAPS a much-needed break.

A centralized office could also make events and workshops easier to plan, making them more available to students. Oftentimes on the Hill, activities like Mindful Meditation help students de-stress but only take place once a week. Students need more permanent fixtures. For example, the board could create a newsletter and work with CAPS to implement new support system practices like peer counseling methods.

On-campus mental health resources are available to students living on and off the Hill, which may make the idea of Hill resources redundant. But prioritizing mental health on the Hill and creating resources exclusive to students living on the Hill would help students become more comfortable seeking help. Students would be able to go directly to the source without having to face multiple people.

Students at a top-notch university deserve top-notch support. The stress and mental health issues that come with attending UCLA should not be left to simmer below the surface but instead should be faced head-on with resources provided to students living on campus.

Opinion columnist

Sandra Wenceslao is an Opinion columnist.

Comments are supposed to create a forum for thoughtful, respectful community discussion. Please be nice. View our full comments policy here.