Mental health prioritized

Assembly Bill 2017 (AB 2017) would create a grant program for California public colleges and universities to increase the mental health services offered on their campuses.
The bill was passed in the senate on Aug. 23 and in the assembly Aug. 29. and awaits the signature of California Governor Jerry Brown. Brown has until Sept. 30 to sign or veto the bill or it becomes a pocket veto.

Niaz Khani, clinical psychologist at the Student Health Center, said that if this bill were to pass, Pierce College would have to apply and get approved before receiving additional funds for mental health services.

According to AB 2017, grants will be awarded on a competitive basis and a school that is applying for a grant will have to meet many requirements before being considered.

Khani thinks the money should go toward hiring more psychologists and post-doctoral interns.

The Student Health Center currently has one psychologist and one post-doctoral intern this semester, according to Khani.

“That’s where I would see the money go to,” Khani said. “We might be able to do more outreach, do more classroom presentations. More people, more man-power.”

AB 2017 states that “California public college campuses and higher education systems do not meet national staffing standards for psychiatric services and other mental health professionals.”

Pierce College student Kevin Flores, thinks additional funds to Pierce College health services would be useful for students.

“Sometimes you don’t always get what you need at the health center and I guess it’s not their fault but if you need to see someone right away because you’re stressed or something, you can’t always wait,” Flores said.

According to Khani, If a student wants to see a professional at the Student Health Center, they must make an appointment and fill out the initial paperwork.

Khani said she estimates the average time between a student making an appointment and seeing a psychologist to be around two weeks. Sometimes a student can see the psychologist the same day or week of making an appointment, depending on availability.

Student Health Center Director Beth Benne, said Pierce has limited resources when it comes to mental health and could use the grant money.

“I would love to see this money coming from this bill,” Benne said. “Do we need more money here? Absolutely. Do we need a full-time psychologist? Absolutely. Do we need a psychiatrist? It would be amazing.”

Benne said that in addition to the money, the school would need a long term plan on how to care for its students. She said helping students with mental health needs is difficult because once students graduate, transfer, or drop out, they are no longer eligible for visits to the Student Health Center.

“If we’re going to take on the mantel of responsible health care for the mentally ill, then we have to be prepared to continue that,” Benne said.

According to Kevin, a representative for Governor Jerry Brown, the governor has not released statements about the bill.

Kevin was not able to give out his last name because of his work’s policy.

According to Benne, the Student Health Center offers two counseling groups. One addresses stress and anxiety and the other, anger management and social skills.

Benne said they are trying to put together a parenting group and an eating disorder group, but it’s hard for the health office to find space for all these groups to meet.