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Mental Health Resources & Recognizing Signs of Distress

 

It is a fact that over the past decade or so campuses across the nation, UCSB included, have been experiencing a steady increase in the number of students with mental health issues. Additionally, the severity of the conditions that universities are encountering is growing. A larger population of students with psychological conditions, some severe, appears to be a permanent characteristic of campus life.

Though the vast majority of students with psychological conditions are successful in college, these students often have a different set of needs and expectations than we used to encounter a decade ago. These students may need a more extensive and intensive mental health support system from our counseling center, student health, disabled students programs, residence halls, student life office, and other student services. 

Sending a child off to college is a proud and happy moment, but it can also be the source of anxiety. Parents want to be reassured that the campus can provide appropriate student support services so that all students can be successful.

We at UCSB have been aware of the trend in student mental health and for some years have been working to better serve the students and the campus as a whole. In addition to our Counseling and Psychological Services department and and Student Health staff, Student Mental Health Coordination Services is a department dedicated to assisting students in psychological distress.

If your student has a history of mental or physical health issues, the best strategy for ensuring success at UCSB is to develop a plan for their care prior to arrival on campus. There are a number of important considerations to keep in mind, such as transferring care to local health professionals, planning for the transition to living away from home, setting up new routines for taking medication regularly, and adjusting to a new schedule. College life is full of distractions, and some students have setbacks in managing their illnesses by forgetting their medications or electing not to take them. In preparation for the transition to college, we strongly recommend that you contact the professionals in our campus Social Work Services at Student Health at (805) 893-3087 who can provide information, guidance, advice, and assistance.

Active Minds: Educating and Enlightening About Mental Health

Active Minds is an organization which appears on college campuses across America. It was founded by Alison Malmon, who  was inspired to fight mental health stigma after her brother committed suicide. She wanted to help people like her brother  Brian, who suffer from mental health issues, to not be afraid to get the help they need. Mental health issues such as  depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder can and do affect everyone, even if it’s through a friend or family member. Young adults aged 18-24 have the highest prevalence of diagnosable forms of mental health disorders. This, along with the fact that suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students, puts college campuses in great need of mental health awareness. 

One of the main goals of Active Minds is to fight the negative connotations surrounding mental health issues in order to make people more willing to get the help that they need. Active Minds is not a support group. The focus is on creating awareness of campus resources, encouraging students to seek help, and breaking down stigmas about mental health. Showing people their resources, fighting negative stigma, and increasing awareness bring us one step closer to helping students on campus to seek the help they need as casually as they would if they had a sinus infection. Interested students can get involved in Active Minds and help make a difference on campus. Contact information for Active Minds can be found on the UCSB OrgSync website.

 

Recognizing Signs & Symptoms of Distress

In addition to being in tune to your student’s mental health condition, encourage your student to be aware of his or her peers’ behavior. The following are signs that a student could be in distress and need to see a counselor:

  • behavioral or emotional change; someone who doesn't seem like themselves
  • withdrawal from others and/or favorite activities; excessive crying
  • change in hygiene or appearance; not taking care of oneself
  • decline in academic performance
  • alcohol or drug abuse, especially a sudden or dramatic increase in use
  • excessive or inappropriate anger
  • anxiety, panic, or fear
  • bizarre thoughts or behavior (e.g. out of touch with reality, talking about suicide)
  • others feel uncomfortable or worried about them
  • decline in functioning (e.g. not attending class, not sleeping or sleeping too much)
  • wanting to harm self or others
  • overwhelming sense of apathy, indifferent to life
  • trouble concentrating or following through with plans
  • very low energy; feeling worthless and/or hopeless


If you are concerned about a distressed student, please call Student Mental Health Coordination Services at (805) 893-3030. If it is an emergency, call 911 or (805) 893-3446.

IDENTIFYING STUDENTS IN DISTRESS

UCSB has had an early warning program in place for several years now whose goal is to help us identify and get help for students exhibiting signs of psychological distress. The program consists of outreach and training for staff and faculty to enable them to identify and respond to distressed students. An essential component of the program is a booklet titled “Responding to Distressed Students” that is now in its second edition and has been distributed to every office and department on campus in hard copy form and to every faculty and staff member via a website: www.sa.ucsb.edu/distressedstudentsguide

The guide is used as part of the foundation for the training and provides information on identification of various symptoms of distress, a protocol for immediate response, and descriptions of campus resources that can be easily accessed. These resources range from psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors to campus police, judicial affairs officers, and other administrators, like our coordinators of student mental health services and associate dean for Student Wellness, who regularly work with distressed students. In essence, we have created a safety net that alerts key campus staff who quickly mobilize and develop an appropriate service response for students in psychological distress. This early response program works on behalf of both the distressed student and the campus community, hopefully identifying students early and getting them help before a crisis develops.