Community colleges taking more action to address mental health


Student Health Ambassador Gabriel Cunha, 26, promotes the Student Health Services at the Health Center on May 25. The stand offered hand sanitizers, lip balms, condoms and flyers promoting TimelyCare and workshops. (Igor Colonno | The Union)

California community colleges are taking action to spend the appropriate funding to bring more mental health resources including individual counseling, group therapy and external resources.

The state of California has increased its funding for community colleges with the academic year of 2021-2022 funding $30 million from the state’s general fund according to the California’s Legislature Nonpartisan Fiscal and Policy Advisor with a 200% growth in funding since 2018-19.

The state of California has appropriated the funding for regional training, Crisis Text Line support, mental health resource materials, and Kognito online suicide prevention training enrolled in 106 community colleges serving 90,000 community college faculty, staff and students.

However, colleges are also funded by their mandatory student health fee. This enables colleges to provide extra help to students including counseling sessions, therapy, group therapy and more.

The student health fee at El Camino College is $22 each fall and spring semester.

Higher than the lowest $19 fee with a 15.8% decrease compared to $22, and lower than the maximum fee limited by the state of California at $26 with an 18% increase.

The center offers individual assistance, but due to its long waitlist averaging 10 days, students suffer issues with needing to talk with someone as fast as they can according to Susan Nilles, director of the Student Health Center.

To solve this issue Nilles said that the center is working to bring the platform Togetherall to El Camino College.

The platform is a peer-to-peer online mental health community featuring 24/7 clinical moderation, courses and resources for students.

Nilles said that the Student Health Center will be offering a program to post-doctoral students to work with real professionals for the experience.

However, El Camino provides TimelyCare, an external source to replace the slow pace and get help as soon as possible.

The app provides scheduled appointments with a provider where students can choose by preference and offers the TalkNow service which any time of the day, run on a licensed psychiatrist will be available to talk to within five minutes.

TimelyCare had a total of 1,171 student visits since its implementation in April 2022.

Even though the service is useful Nilles said that students still prefer in-person meetings with a psychologist.

The Student Health Center offers six visits per academic year, and depending on the type of problem, a person may be referred to an outside specialist for further assistance.

Lux Vargas, a 21-year-old fashion designer major said that she recommends using the therapy counseling sessions available at El Camino.

“I have anxiety so they helped me utilize how to manage my anxiety… it’s very helpful,” Vargas said.

Photo Illustration by Igor Colonno
Photo Illustration by Igor Colonno

Azeb Bhutia, director of clinical training at the Life Skills Center at LA Harbor College said that 10 to 12% of the 11,426 students enrolled in the 2021-22 academic year used the services at her college including individual counseling and support groups. The college’s mental health services are funded by the state and health fee.

The college has been demonstrating its services heavily, offering group therapy workshops targeting specific topics each week during the semester.

Support groups that work in conjunction with Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS) related to a specific topic focus on minorities including Women’s groups, and LGBTQ+ groups.

“The focus is to really see the person as a whole… if it’s a crisis within the hour, we’ll make sure that the crisis is deescalated and they’re able to be calmer and relax so either they can be back in the classroom or go home and rest and then we’ll engage them with a brief therapy, with the six sessions,” Bhutia said.

Its one-on-one assistance offers six sessions to students, but may go up to 12 sessions if the issue has yet to be worked on, with the possibility of referral to a clinical professional if the issue persists Bhutia said

The college not only offers assistance to its students but also offers staff assistance followed by two presentations in the academic year to present its resources.

LA City College on the other hand works in conjunction with an external clinical source.

The Wesley Health Centers John Wesley Community Health (JWCH) Institute are clinics located throughout Southern California and provide clinical services to communities.

Aspen Burnett, director of behavioral health, said that LA City College offers individual assistance to students in need of help with its main goal of “solution-oriented helping.”.

It works with various types of problems, but its main student causes are anxiety and depression.

Depending on the issue, the center may refer the student to specialized doctors outside school to take a more in-depth look at the case.

“We don’t want people in 20 years of therapy,” Burnett said.

The goal of the center is to find long-term solutions for its clients. The person may come back as long as they want, as it’s not only offered as a time slot just like other colleges, having unlimited amounts.

Since LA City College has the advantage of having a third party already, it provides services 24/7.

Santa Monica College in comparison is one the largest colleges in enrollment of the state’s community colleges, with 37,693 students enrolled in 2021-22.

The college prioritizes counseling assistance with three sessions fully covered by the student health $26 fee.

Danilo Donoso has been a licensed psychologist for Santa Monica College, since 2017.

“Our mission is to provide mental health resources to promote psychological well-being for our students,” Donoso said. “We offer that in a number of different ways, outreach, workshops and individual counseling therapy.”.

The college provides short-term counseling and refers to community counseling through clinics as long-term.

Donoso said that through his short-term counseling, he works with the student based on the top three problems, and breaks down these problems to figure out the main cause.

Effectiveness is something that is highly considered in the center and academic performance is used as a metric for mental health wellness and student performance.

“I think [the services] are extremely effective… just being able to talk with somebody… is so vital,” Donoso said. “Even for those students who don’t use our services just knowing that they’re there, [it already] provides a therapeutic benefit.”

Pasadena City College also has one of the largest student populations in the state of California with 32,965 students in the 2021 – 2022 academic year.

The college met the health needs of 2,142 students in the spring, fall and summer of this academic year with services including intakes, individual therapy, case management, crisis, and testing said Mindy Throop director of the student health services at Pasadena City College

Throop said the college due to the amount of professionals available to meet student needs, has difficulties in promotion or plans of new events.

“We have lots of ideas but the main goal is to maximize what we have without burning out our current employees,” Throop said.

Pasadena College’s health center is not entirely funded by the mandatory $26 health fee, although some portion of the funding comes from district funds, and money allocated directly from the Chancellor’s office.

However at Fullerton College to promote the services, Dana Timmermans, director of behavioral health services, said that the college established Radical care.

A social gathering is available every Wednesday for students to ask questions to professionals of the center and educate more on the topic.

“It’s not therapy, it’s just being able to decrease the stigma around therapy,” Timmermans said.

Flyers for Radical care are everywhere, stamped from bathrooms walls to hallways to make sure students know that the services are present, Timmermans said.

The $21 student health fee covers three to six individual therapy sessions but may be more if the problem persists.

It also covers in-person or online therapy, embedded therapy that serves minority students including undocumented, LGBTQIA+, and African Americans, and the Student Support and Resource Team (SSRT) which is a program that professors may refer students to therapy who are showing a lack of performance or are at risk.

Although human assistance is helpful to most people, there are developments of machine prototypes to solve people’s mental health problems.

Depression treatments including electromagnetic Induction have been around since 1985 according to a study by the National Library of Medicine but it hasn’t been perfected as of yet.

Elyn Saks, an expert on mental health and psychologist and psychiatrist at the University of Southern California said that research is being done including new medications and potential treatments.

“Transcranial Medical Stimulation where they shoot electricity through your brain… It’s supposed to be as effective as ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy) with fewer side effects,” Saks said.