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Social welfare caucus to connect grad students, mental health experts

Guillermo Ojeda and Macy Ragole are creating the Mental Health Caucus to provide collaboration and networking opportunities in mental health for graduate students studying social welfare. (Michael Zshornack/Photo editor)

By Emi Nakahara

Oct. 2, 2017 1:15 a.m.

This post was updated Oct. 2 at 9:33 p.m.

A caucus aimed at helping social welfare graduate students learn about mental health will hold its first meeting Thursday.

Guillermo Ojeda, a graduate student in social welfare who founded the Mental Health Caucus, said working as an intern at the Harbor–UCLA Medical Center helped him realize the importance of mental health in social work. The caucus, which will connect students with mental health-related events and experts, will meet in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs Building on Thursday.

“Research at Luskin is very policy based, but there’s not much for mental health policy,” said Macy Ragole, a graduate student in social welfare and vice chair of the caucus. “It’s very lacking here.”

The Department of Social Welfare in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs prepares graduate students for careers in social work through education in welfare, aging, mental health, family dynamics and healthcare, according to its website.

Ojeda said he thinks graduate students in his department who are interested in mental health should be more involved in mental health organizations and initiatives outside of the classroom.

He added there are no organizations for mental health in the social welfare department despite it being a large part of the curriculum, and said he thinks social welfare students should become more involved in mental health research.

“Social work is sometimes seen as a lesser ladder (compared to other majors), and this caucus can really help bring us to the table for mental health,” Ojeda said. “Just two weeks ago I spoke with the executive director of Active Minds, and she told me she didn’t know we had the (social welfare master’s degree) program.”

Active Minds is a campus organization that aims to educate students about the stigma surrounding mental heath. Ojeda added he plans to have caucus members mentor undergraduate students interested in mental health and introduce them to career opportunities in social work.

Ragole said she thinks the caucus can help social welfare students expand and diversity their learning experience.

“I don’t think it creates the best learning experience if we only teach one view,” Ragole said. “The goal of the caucus is (for students in social welfare) to connect with people other than social workers.”

Ojeda said the caucus will hold an event with UCLArts and Healing, a therapy group, Oct. 31 to show how the group uses art and music therapy to address mental health. He added the event will also give caucus members an opportunity to network and learn more about mental health.

Laura Alongi, a professor in social welfare and caucus advisor, said many people struggle with treating their mental illness because it is highly stigmatized, and as a social worker she often needed to guide and educate them in mental health.

“I’ve seen families referred to mental treatment facilities wanting to hide and make sure other people didn’t know (about their illness),” she said. “Social work is really a job to include mental health practices, and we need to teach (social welfare) students to deal with these issues.”

Ojeda said he hopes the caucus will expand in the future, and eventually host a large conference and invite international speakers. The caucus is currently only open to graduate students in social welfare, but Ojeda said the caucus may expand membership to students from other departments as well.

Contributing reports by Rupan Bharanidaran, Daily Bruin senior staff.

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Emi Nakahara | Science and health editor
Nakahara is the assistant news editor for the science and health beat. She was previously a contributor for the science and health beat.
Nakahara is the assistant news editor for the science and health beat. She was previously a contributor for the science and health beat.
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