College students experience higher levels of mental illness than the general population. In fact, a recent study reports that 19 percent of California State University and University of California students reported impaired academic functioning due to mental health symptoms such as anxiety and depression—compared to the 3.5 percent commonly reported for the general population.

The CSU’s Student Mental Health Initiative is helping meet the increasing need for mental health services among college students. Funded through the California Mental Health Services Authority (CalMHSA) by the voter-approved Mental Health Services Act (Prop 63), the initiative provides mental health curriculum development and training, peer-to-peer support and suicide prevention programs.

The CSU received $7.1 million from Prop 63—with this funding, CSU faculty, staff and students have made substantial progress in increasing awareness of student mental health issues and campus resources–as well as effectively responding to student distress. In fact, the CSU’s CalMHSA workshops, activities, events and trainings have reached more than 288,000 members of CSU campus communities.

“The initiative has made a significant contribution to the improvement of mental health on our campuses and beyond,” said CSU Assistant Director of Student Health and Wellness Programs Ana Aguayo-Bryant. “It’s also helping to take away the shame and stigma associated with mental illness, creating a supportive campus environment focused on academic and personal wellness.”

To date, more than 17,200 CSU students, faculty, staff and campus community members have been trained in a number of mental health workshops coordinated by initiative. The CSU has also implemented electronic tools at all 23 campuses that identify common signs of student distress and direct faculty/staff through campus protocol to clarify who to contact in the event of an emergency. The initiative also includes a social marketing campaign, Student Health 101, to combat the stigma among students. So far it has given 71,000 students access to an online magazine focused on mental health and wellness.

A strong partnership with the UC and California Community Colleges is an important part of the initiative. In collaboration with these partners, the CSU has trained 437 police officers from CSU, UC, CCC and local agencies on how to recognize mental health illnesses and effectively de-escalate dangerous situations. The Chancellor’s Office also recruited and trained more than 141 individuals from throughout California public higher ed who are now certified instructors in practices including Applied Suicide Prevention Skills Training, Mental Health First Aid and Question, Persuade and Refer.

In addition to these systemwide efforts, the funding has also strengthened existing mental health programs and services at CSU campuses. This includes student-run organizations such as Active Minds, which is dedicated to empowering students to change the perception about mental health on college campuses.