May 2016 marks the first National Mental Health Awareness Month, though mental health organizations nationwide have long used the month as a chance to reduce stigma about mental illness and substance abuse disorders, and to advocate for better resources and expansion of preventative care.
Issues of mental health and overall well-being have come to the forefront of the student life experience on many campuses across the nation, including UC Berkeley. In April of 2015, the Graduate Assembly released the Graduate Student Happiness & Well-Being Report, which cites the critical links between well-being, psychological resilience and academic success. That same month, students voted in support of The Wellness Referendum, raising fees to improve mental health services, expand stress management efforts, and increase resources for sexual assault survivors on campus. Many student organizations, both undergraduate- and graduate-focused, have undertaken additional initiatives to address mental health and well-being.
For example, UCB NAMI is the UC Berkeley chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a nationwide grassroots organization dedicated to advocating, educating, and supporting communities impacted by mental illness. Some of UCB NAMI’s key programs include an annual community mental health fair, curriculum design and outreach to high school students, and a campus destigamatization campaign, “How Are You Feeling?”. Graduate students are encouraged to sign up for their mailing list by emailing copresident-elect Tiffany Luo.
Pierre Tchetgen and Gordon Pherribo of the Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA) saw a lack in wellness support services for graduate students in particular, so together they organized the first annual Graduate Wellness Conference, which took place on April 23, 2016, and featured workshops on topics ranging from financial literacy, to dynamic mindfulness, to physical fitness, music and healing circles. Their goal was to provide resources to address a variety of wellness topics — physical and emotional health, stressors, and how these topics affect communities of people. Recognizing the unique stressors and pressures that graduate students often encounter in their careers, Pherribo noted that not only should graduate students remain cognizant of their own stress levels and self-care practices, they should also pay attention to the wellness of their peers.
The conference was co-sponsored by Word.Sound.Life., a community arts and media learning organization co-founded by Tchetgen. They were recently awarded a grant through the UC Berkeley Student Opportunity Fund to publish an interactive, multimedia Graduate Wellness Guide, consisting of a print magazine, audio downloads and video resources. Tchetgen is working with a variety of collaborators, including KALX and Berkeley Community Media, to produce content for the guide, and plan to include transcripts and video from the conference workshops. If you are interested in collaborating or contributing media, please visit their website or email Tchetgen.
As another initiative for the 2016-17 academic year, the Student Mental Health Coalition and the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC) are partnering to bring the peer-to-peer counseling startup 7 Cups of Tea to UC Berkeley’s campus. The service utilizes a network of trained listeners to match individuals seeking support with an anonymous, one-on-one online chat. ASUC Senator Sina Rashidi notes the advantages of the anonymous platform and hopes that this kind of on-demand service will encourage graduate students to seek services early, before stress escalates to crisis levels. For more information, see 7 Cups of Tea | Student Mental Health Coalition.
University Health Services at the Tang Center also offers a variety of services and resources targeted at mental health and wellness for graduate students, including a series of graduate-student-only support groups and satellite counseling offices. If you are interested in learning more about bringing a satellite counselor to your department or building, please contact Susan Bell. For information about the summer groups available through the CPS website, see here.