By: Rebecca Hernandez
May 1st marks the beginning of National Mental Health Awareness Month. Across the nation, the month is dedicated to raising awareness, erasing stigma, and honoring those who overcame mental health problems and those who are fighting them.
At California State University, Long Beach, mental health services such as Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and On-Campus Emergency Assistance Network (Project OCEAN) support students struggling with their mental health.
Both university services offer students the resources to learn to cope with their busy, stressful lives—both on and off campus. These resources emphasize the importance of discussing mental health awareness so that it is no longer taboo among students.
Along with providing amenities like individual and group counseling, the wellness services inform students about suicide prevention and offer community-building activities with trained peer mentors from Project OCEAN.
“The more we start broadening our view of what wellness looks like and how to achieve that, there will be less shame,” said CAPS Director Amanda De-Loera Morales.
It is a concern for CAPS that students often avoid asking for help for two reasons. The first is unawareness. While CSULB offers these services to students at no cost, it is difficult to gauge whether students know about them. The second is that even if students are aware, that does not guarantee they will utilize them.
According to a 2020 piece published by the American Psychiatric Association, more than half of people struggling with mental health do not get the help they need; this could be for many reasons, such as: avoiding or delaying treatment due to fear of being judged or a lack of resources.
“There are so many layers; to some level, it’s cultural; to some level, it’s intergenerational, but there is absolutely still a stigma,” says Morales. “I think it comes from an unawareness.”
Subsequently, it is not easy to understand why an individual might feel ashamed to ask for help, and reasons vary from person to person. Societal conditioning can contribute to the notion that getting help means going to therapy or counseling, which some people might feel is uncomfortable or useless. So some opt out of getting help.
Students might find that traditional therapy at CAPS works best for them. On the other hand, another individual will find companionship from Buddies Connect, another Project OCEAN initiative that fulfills their mental wellness needs.
Utilizing the assistance offered here at CSULB helps students take care of themselves in ways they find fit. Creating spaces on campus where students can openly discuss the importance of spreading mental health awareness is just the start of destigmatizing the topic.
“We firmly believe that mental health resources don’t have to look just one way,” says Morales.
“It’s not just about being in an office or a one-on-one session; building your mental health and wellness can happen in so many ways.”