A Month to Reflect on Mental Health Matters

 Chancellor Gary S. May

You’re likely to see people wearing green ribbons as the next few weeks move along. That’s because May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness and help break the stigmas about one of society’s most pressing issues.

It’s safe to say we all know someone who’s been affected by mental health issues. It might be a family member who struggles with depression, or a friend who’s trying to overcome their anxiety. It may even be yourself. Either way, we’re all touched by mental health issues in our communities, especially in terms of education, public safety and housing.

So, Mental Health Awareness Month offers the chance to be an ally. It’s a time to recognize the advocacy and good work being done around the region in providing resources for mental health needs. It’s a time to speak freely on mental health issues and come together to make a difference.

Supporting the mental health of students remains one of our top priorities at UC Davis. There’s no doubt the stresses of studying and making ends meet can certainly take its toll. College is also a time of great change, one that can cause anxiety about life after graduation.

We’ve taken action, especially as our latest survey data shows more than 64 percent of undergraduates reported feeling “overwhelming anxiety.” Forty-nine percent reported feeling so depressed they had trouble functioning. What’s alarming is these rates have been increasing since 2015.

That’s why we formed a task force last year dedicated to mental health. Our Student Health and Counseling Services acted quickly to create new workshops on anxiety awareness. They found ways to provide additional counseling time for students in need, and developed programs that improved accessibility to mental health services.

The hard work continues. We’re dedicated to making UC Davis a place where the mental health of students is supported more than ever — and where students can get help free of judgment.

Mental Health Awareness Month is also a time to recognize the resources available in our area. One of those is the Yolo County chapter for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). They’re based here in Davis but also serve Woodland, West Sacramento, Winters and all other communities within the county.

One of their support groups meets at UC Davis. It’s a free, 90-minute meeting that provides coping strategies and encouragement for those living with mental illness. The Yolo County Chapter of NAMI also provides family support, youth outreach and information about crisis services on its website.

They can use your support in turn. A “NAMIWalks” fundraiser will be held May 4 at William Land Park in Sacramento. The theme is “Not All Heroes Wear Capes,” where teams, including one from UC Davis, will walk and run to raise money in the name of mental health awareness. I hope you’ll consider making a donation to one of their teams.

I’m thinking of our neighbors across the Causeway who are similarly working hard in the name of mental health, including the Sacramento chapter of NAMI.

It’s also encouraging to see Sacramento leaders like Mayor Darrell Steinberg making mental health advocacy such a top priority. The Steinberg Institute is a nonprofit organization that’s advancing public policy related to mental health in important ways. They’re backing a series of state legislation including a bill that would increase the availability of mental health counseling for college students (AB 1689), and another that would create culturally sensitive mental health services (AB 512).

So, whether you wear a green ribbon or not, I hope that you’ll think of ways to support Mental Health Awareness Month. With a spirit of camaraderie and the encouragement to speak freely, we can make a difference during the month of May and far beyond.

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