Brief description: Opened in 1965, University of California Santa Cruz is a public university in the state of California. During the 2016-2017 academic year they enrolled 16,328 undergraduate and 1,735 graduate students (with a residential population of about 9,200 students living on campus). UCSC requires all incoming residential counselors (RCs) to participate in the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training and has trained many members of the UCSC community, including at least 50 RCs, students, and other paid professionals on campus ranging from academic advisors to professors to fire and police chiefs.
From a small pilot to a university-wide mandate
Michael Yamauchi-Gleason, a College Administration Officer, was the person who initially championed bringing MHFA to Porter College, one of the ten residential colleges at UCSC. Gleason was passionate about ensuring that students have access to appropriate mental health support, and as a Mental Health First Aid instructor himself, recognized the value MHFA could bring in a college setting, and especially to residential counselors, who interact with a large number of incoming students that may be encountering massive changes in their personal support system for the first time. Michael’s colleague, Kathy Cooney, who is the Associate College Administrative Officer, also became trained as an instructor, helping catalyze the efforts to provide classes to all 52 of Porter College’s RCs. Cooney recalls, “We’d seen increased depression, suicidal ideation, and self-medication on campus. We wanted to break through the stigma and create an environment where it was OK for students to say they needed help.”
As more RCs were trained at Porter College, the program gained increased visibility across the entire university, and eventually its value came to the attention of the Executive Vice Chancellor, who mandated the training for all ~230 residential counselors across all UCSC campuses. To date, more than half of the UCSC RCs have been trained in MHFA.
Furthermore, the value of the MHFA training has come to the attention of UCSC’s graduate program for education, which is now requiring that aspiring teachers take the Youth MHFA course as part of the curriculum needed to acquire a teaching certificate.
Results of MHFA
As the number of RCs trained in MHFA increased, so did the program’s popularity among other, more permanent staff members who are seeing tremendous value in the training. Cooney says that demand remains high: “We fill our classes up and still have a waiting list. Our staff has an interest in being committed to students so many professional staff and faculty are choosing to participate even though they are not required to. Some academic advisors are reaching out to us.” To keep up with such demand, the university has trained seven other staff members as instructors, besides Cooney and Yamauchi-Gleason, who are all able to teach Mental Health First Aid courses to others.
Additionally, in terms of MHFA’s impact on campus, follow-up surveys to first aiders have found that there was an increase in students who self-identified as feeling more comfortable and more equipped to talk about mental health issues with people who are experiencing them.
Cooney herself has noticed a positive change in cultural attitudes surrounding mental health: “There has been this trickle-down effect that has positively impacted culture around mental health on campus. We have a lot of active mental health champions on campus as a result of participating in the training.”
Future direction of MHFA
Although UCSC has mandated the training for all incoming RCs, achieving greater uptake among the rest of the student population remains the ultimate goal. Given increasing demand for the training, the university is working on ways to supply a sufficient amount of trainings. This will likely involve allocating time for instructors to be able to teach MHFA courses as part of their work schedule, not just in their spare time, and also increasing the funding available for purchasing MHFA manuals.