Health & Medicine

September 5, 2012

Grants bolster Sacramento State's mental health outreach

Flush with grants for outreach and prevention, Sacramento State is launching a new program to help mental health counselors reach more students and expand the services that are available on campus.

Flush with grants for outreach and prevention, Sacramento State is launching a new program to help mental health counselors reach more students and expand the services that are available on campus.

"The sheer numbers that are going to be affected by our programs will be larger than ever before," said Lori Varlotta, vice president of student affairs at California State University, Sacramento.

The grants from the Sacramento County Mental Health Agency, California Mental Health Services Authority and the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration total more than $750,000.

The money will pay for student assistants, campaign marketing, training and new Web resources.

Five years ago, Sacramento State health officials adopted a different approach to mental wellness.

Instead of treatment, they focus on prevention and early intervention.

One of the issues with mental wellness, they say, is that people don't get help until it's too late.

"If someone doesn't come into our health center, I may not see the warning signs," said Karen Durst, clinical director for Counseling and Psychological Services.

But now, funding in hand, school officials hope the new "Be Well" campaign, a mental wellness and suicide prevention outreach program, will enable campus community members to identify and intervene in cases of mental health problems.

At the heart of the university's commitment to student well-being is a three-in-one physical health, mental wellness and recreation facility that opened in the center of the campus in September 2010. The $51 million building, known as the WELL, has been touted as a way to help students be "better health care consumers."

At the WELL, students swipe their ID card to check in for appointments and use iPads to fill out paperwork. There is even a special iPhone app that provides diagnosis information.

"Traditionally, health centers have been isolated," said Joy Stewart-James, executive director for Student Health and Counseling Services. "Bringing it to the center of campus enhances visibility."

As a result, 1,650 students now utilize the school's mental health services, up from 800 students two years ago, according to university records. About 29,000 students attend Sacramento State.

The physical health and mental wellness clinics are housed together, Stewart-James said, which reduces the stigma of mental health visits.

"No one knows whether you're here for a cold or here for counseling," she added.

University administrators said the WELL and other mental health offerings were "several years in the making" before 22-year-old Quran Mahammed Jones used a baseball bat to beat his roommate to death in their dorm room in 2009.

In May, Jones was declared insane at the time of the beating and ordered to a mental hospital before serving a lengthy prison sentence.

The issue of student mental health recently returned to the spotlight with the disappearance of University of California, Davis, student Linnea Lomax.

"These programs would have been helpful for Linnea," said Craig Lomax, Linnea's father.

Linnea Lomax was reported missing June 26 after her family said she suffered a mental breakdown while studying for finals. The 19-year-old Placerville woman was treated for 10 days at a Sacramento outpatient facility before disappearing, her father said.

Sacramento State graduate student Amelia Stults, 24, an outreach assistant, started working in the mental services department six years ago as an undergraduate. From what she's seen, health and wellness programs are "vital" to the the campus community.

Even with the new funding, Varlotta acknowledged that reaching every student who needs help may be difficult, if not impossible.

"We're not going to catch every single student, but in terms of our approach, we're the model for CSU."

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