Mental Health Month 2019: 'You're Not Alone'
Story Wellness

Mental Health Month: ‘You’re Not Alone’

Lorie Parch

College isn’t easy. And for many students, classes and studying are just one part of their lives. Work, family and other obligations also claim time and energy. Here’s how some CSU campuses are helping them better manage stress, anxiety and other issues.

Mental Health Month 2019: 'You're Not Alone'

​Thirty-nine percent of students in college experience a significant mental health issue, according to Active Minds, a national organization that advocates for the mental health of college students. Photo courtesy of CSU Long Beach


May is Mental Health Month, a good time for all of us to reflect on how we're coping with what life is throwing our way. College students in particular can struggle to find balance between the sometimes crushing demands of academics, work and family; too often, self-care is the first thing to be sacrificed.

The good news, though, is that more students are looking for help when they need it, says Armando Zaragoza, a graduating psychology major at California State University San Marcos. “I'm seeing more students, faculty and staff talking about mental health," says Zaragoza, who has spent five years working to raise awareness of mental health issues and improve access to both campus and community resources. He is also the campus's president of Active Minds, a national nonprofit that advocates for the mental health of young people.

Adds Zaragoza: “Greek organizations see the need for more education on mental health, there are more partnerships with community resources, and staff and faculty are recognizing when a student is in distress—I'm seeing this conversation starting in all aspects of campus."

“There's been a significant increase in students seeking mental health resources," agrees Karen Nicholson, M.D., director, Student Health and Counseling Services at CSU San Marcos. “We've had to expand our services and resources and we're trying to come together as a team to offer support." 

Putting a Stop to Stigma

That said, for some students there remains a stigma about seeking help for paralyzing anxiety, depression, an eating disorder, the stress of housing and/or food insecurity, sexual violence or other trauma, or a substance abuse problem. “For our underrepresented students, they may come from a culture where seeking services is discouraged or told that these services are not appropriate," notes Dr. Nicholson. “Some students may not have support from home to seek support. Some may also fear that information regarding a visit to a therapist would get back to their family, for example."

At California State University, Fresno, a three-year-old program with a straightforward two-word title—“Let's Talk"—has proved to be a success in breaking down some of these barriers, as well as a helpful complement to traditional counseling.

“Students meet a licensed counselor outside the health center, in a faculty office," explains Malia Sherman, Psy.D., Director of Counseling and Psychological Services at Fresno State. “It's more anonymous and students don't need to complete any forms or schedule a visit." Let's Talk is offered at Fresno State from Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. throughout the academic year, as well as at CSU Monterey Bay, CSUN, Sacramento State, San Diego State, San Francisco State and San Jose State.

At the March 2019 CSU Board of Trustees meeting, Chairman Adam Day spotlighted Asha Bhattacharya, a CSU Fullerton student who proposed a “mental fitness center" on campus that would offer peer mentoring, meditation, and art therapy.

“The idea is to encourage students to think about their mental health more proactively, just like we do about physical fitness and nutrition," explained Chairman​ Day. “Feedback and input from students like Asha are so important and critical to creating a support system that best meets their needs."

All 23 CSU campuses have a mental health and counseling services center, which is sometimes integrated into the campus's health center and sometimes separate. 

The Toughest Time of the Year

Unsurprisingly, visits by students spike at certain times, particularly the period between midterms and finals and graduation, says Dr. Sherman.

If you're a student who's having difficulty managing stress, depression, anxiety or another issue, don't hesitate to take advantage of what your campus has to offer, she adds. In addition to traditional one-on-one counseling and groups that offer support, “all CSU campuses are moving toward offering more holistic care," Sherman says. These include workshops on time management, good nutrition, healthy cooking, the benefits of exercise, meditation and mindfulness, and more.

That's the message Zaragoza wants to emphasize over all others, too: “You're not alone," he stresses. “Everyone deals with a mental health challenge and it's okay to seek help. Other students have benefitted from resources. Your campus community is there to support you."

Many CSU campuses also add more resources to support students during those periods of peak stress. Sacramento State, CSU Long Beach and CSU Dominguez Hills, among other campuses, have offered very cute and furry de-stressors (better known as dogs) during finals week, and CSU Northridge has its calming Oasis Wellness Center, with yoga, aromatherapy and guided meditation.

“There are a lot of great online resources, too," says Sherman. “There are more non-traditional ways to access counseling than ever before."


9 Problems Your Campus Mental Health Center Can Help With 

  • Anxiety
  • Academic stress
  • Depression
  • Panic attacks
  • Insomnia

  • Substance abuse (including alcohol and prescription drugs)

  • Sexual trauma and other kinds of trauma/PTSD 

  • Housing insecurity, food insecurity or other financial problems

  • Relationship issues, including a break-up

If you are in crisis or considering suicide, immediately call 1-800-273-TALK (8255), call 911, or go to your nearest ER.

Basic Needs Initiative