California College IDs May Soon Include Mental Health Resources | The F
By Carolyn Jones
Three years after California required colleges to put suicide prevention phone numbers on all student ID cards, a group of students wants to take the push for student welfare one step further: adding a 24-hour mental health hotline.
Assembly Bill 2122, introduced last month, would require all community colleges and California State University campuses to print a phone number on student ID cards for local mental health services, either through the city, county or college itself. The hotline would be optional for the University of California because the legislature does not have authority over UC.
Most campuses already have mental health centers, but not all have 24-hour crisis numbers. The bill encourages those without mental health centers to establish one and urges all campuses to establish mental health helplines.
“Mental health is often overlooked until it’s too late – students start to suffer from extreme burnout, disengagement, falling grades. There are so many things schools can do to help students before they reach that point,” said Leo Corzo-Clark, a recent graduate of Albany High School in the East Bay who helped draft the bill with his colleagues at Generation Up, a California student advocacy group. . Assemblyman Steven Choi, R-Irvine, sponsored the bill.
The Assembly’s Higher Education Committee is due to hear the bill on Tuesday. It follows two other student welfare bills – SB 972, which requires high schools and colleges to print a suicide hotline on ID cards, and SB 316, which places domestic violence hotlines on student ID cards – which have been adopted in recent years, along with a slew of legislation relating to student mental health in general.
California State University, which does not oppose the bill, has significantly expanded its student mental health services since the pandemic began two years ago. Each of its 23 campuses offers in-person and online student counseling services, and a $15 million state grant allows each campus to hire more counselors and other staff to respond to growing needs.
Student mental health was declining long before the pandemic, due to economic uncertainty, social injustice, an increase in communal violence, climate change and other issues, but accelerated when Covid forced the closure of school campuses and increased social isolation. A recent report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than 44% of high school students had experienced lingering feelings of sadness or hopelessness in the past year, and 9% had attempted suicide. Among college students and young adults, more than 60% reported experiencing severe anxiety and depression during the pandemic, according to Boston College researchers, whose work has been published in the journal Translational Behavioral Medicine.
Kimberly Woo, a UC Berkeley junior who helped write AB 2122, said she was so depressed in first grade that she often couldn’t get out of bed. She felt social anxiety about meeting new people and was overwhelmed by the stress of school and being away from home. She says she tried to contact the campus mental health center, but staff never called her back. Her frustration drove her to get involved with AB 2122.
“My experience was not unique. Many students suffer from mental health issues and there are too few therapists,” she said. “I want to make sure that mental health resources are so accessible that they literally end up in students’ back pockets.
Assemblyman Choi, vice chair of the Assembly’s higher education committee and a former member of the Irvine Unified School Board, said student mental health is among his top priorities.
“What we already knew has only been highlighted by the pandemic over the past two years: young people too often suffer from mental health issues and may not seek help even when resources are available,” said Choi. “I know my bill would be an important step in ensuring our students get the health care services they may need.
AB 2122 is one of many bills related to K-12 schools and higher education that Generation Up students have helped draft this year. AB 2683, the only other bill affecting colleges, would require colleges to educate students about preventing sexual harassment and violence.
Three bills affect K-12 schools: SB 955 would require schools to excuse students for absences related to political or civic engagement, such as attending a protest, voting, or volunteering as a poll worker. SB 997 would strengthen student representation on steering committees. SB 1236 would give full voting rights to student members of school boards.
Alvin Lee, one of the founders of Generation Up, said his group came up with these ideas after surveying thousands of college students across California about their needs and priorities. Mental health and political empowerment were the main concerns, he said. He and his colleagues went with these particular ideas because they could benefit many students, cost very little, and aren’t particularly controversial.
“We see them as simple, direct ways to make a big impact,” said Lee, a student at Claremont McKenna College. “Mental health is especially important because it is the foundation of a student’s well-being. They cannot concentrate and thrive in a learning environment unless they feel mentally well.
Corzo-Clark, who is now a freshman at Brown University in Rhode Island, said he decided to champion AB 2122 after hearing so many students talk about their struggles finding mental health counseling, even as life became increasingly stressful during the pandemic. He also heard students say they were sometimes hesitant to seek help because of the stigma associated with mental health disorders.
“I would like to see this bill enacted. But just introducing the bill is a way to start a conversation and let the Legislature know that this is a priority for students,” Corzo-Clark said. “Students say, ‘This is what we need.’ ”