Active Minds petitions to expand mental health services

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Active Minds, a student group on campus, and the Student Wellness Advisory Council (SWAC), a student administration committee, prepared a petition for President Jonathan Veitch to expand Emmons Wellness Center’s mental health facilities. The petition is the first step in the groups’ plan to increase student awareness of the services already offered by Emmons.

Both Active Minds and SWAC are looking to gain as many signatures for the petition as possible before Feb. 21 in an effort to create a groundswell movement that will encourage the administration to take action.

The petition outlines five problems and three solutions to ensure students benefit fully from the services Emmons provides. According to Active Minds founder and Diplomacy and World Affairs major Dana Rust (sophomore), the groups worked closely with Emmons and other student
associations to develop their goals and keep them realistic.

Problems identified in the petition include the limited number of available appointments, obstacles to services for minority students on campus and the inability to coordinate care between on- and off-campus services. The petition also states that care provided for at-risk students could be improved, as could the amount of information presented to students about mental health issues and services.

The petition lists three recommendations to solve these problems: the implementation of a case manager’s position to the Emmons staff to coordinate on- and off-campus care, an introduction of peer counseling and a mental health presentation during first year orientation.

Established by students last spring, Active Minds spent the Fall 2014 semester engaging the student body in weekly meetings and presenting to first-year students in the First-Year Residential Experience (FYRE) program.

For Rust, the aim for Active Minds is to reduce the stigma associated with mental health and start a meaningful dialogue on campus.

“Freshman year would have been so much easier if someone had acknowledged the fact that [starting college] wasn’t going to be just this smooth transition,” Rust said.

Associate Director of Student Health Services Dr. Matthew Calkins welcomed Active Minds’s efforts and highlighted the importance that this club will have in bringing conversations on mental health to light.

“It’s a constant discussion that’s happening quietly, about advocating for more resources and talking about the needs of students,” Calkins said. “But when a petition, especially one from student groups, is created I think it has a lot of power.”

However, the issue is not clear-cut. According to professor of psychology Heather Banis, who teaches a clinical psychology course at Occidental, certain students are more satisfied with health care services than others.

“What I’ve sensed from people is that either they’re very grateful and their needs are being met well or almost the opposite,” Banis said. “That the services aren’t meeting their needs, the wait is too long and there aren’t enough counselors to respond to the need.”

Students are currently offered ten therapy sessions over the academic year. The first session is a half-hour assessment, establishing the patients needs and assigning them their therapist. Calkins said that Emmons aims
to set appointments for new patients within a week of inquiry.

So far, the petition has amassed over 450 signatures from students, parents, faculty, staff and other members of the Occidental community.