The Humboldt State University Student Health and Counseling Center on Oct. 5. Since 2016, HSU’s Counseling and Psychological Services has increased its use of data to better meet student needs. | Photo by James Wilde

Mental Health at Humboldt State

HSU's CAPS is working to combat mental health concerns among HSU students.

HSU’s CAPS is working to combat mental health concerns among HSU students

Rates of attempted suicide in Humboldt County stand far above national and state averages, according to Humboldt State University Health Center Director Brian Mistler, Ph.D.

“Suicide attempt rates in Humboldt County are nearly twice the national and California averages,” Mistler said in an email response facilitated by HSU Communication Specialist Grant Scott-Goforth. “And HSU students face greater systemic barriers to access health care than in other more affluent and less isolated parts of the country.”

An estimated 40% of HSU students felt elevated levels of depression according to a 2016-2017 Healthy Minds Study led by Daniel Eisenberg, Ph.D of the Healthy Minds Network, which performs web-based mental health surveys on college students.

Eisenberg has been leading an analysis of student mental health at all 23 California State Universities. In the 2016-2017 analysis of HSU, an estimated 42% of students had elevated levels of anxiety, while an estimated 4% of students attempted suicide in the last year.

Mistler tied Humboldt County’s lack of expert services to mental health.

“…HSU students face greater systemic barriers to access health care than in other more affluent and less isolated parts of the country.”

Brian Mistler, Humboldt State University Health Center Director

“Mental health is a critical basic need and it’s tied to others like having enough food, shelter and physical health care and safety,” Mistler said in the email. “Psychological needs become more important as chronic resource insecurity increases.”

Mistler clarified that HSU’s relatively high rates of mental health conditions do not appear to be caused by Humboldt itself.

“From what we know today, the increased needs among students appear to be present on the first day,” Mistler said in the email. “That is, it’s not caused by being here.”

Mistler added that many HSU students may arrive with a history of limited health care access.

“It’s also true that many students arrive at HSU having not had access to their fair share of health and counseling services in the past,” Mistler said in the email. “It’s clear from all the data that HSU’s team of health experts do a phenomenal job of helping those students who choose to seek help.”

Counseling and Psychological Services Staff Psychologist and Outreach Coordinator Dr. Elizabeth McCallion in a CAPS office on Oct. 1. McCallion said most students who visit CAPS report positive experiences. | Photo by James Wilde

HSU Counseling and Psychological Services Staff Psychologist and Outreach Coordinator Dr. Elizabeth McCallion is one of the experts working to help students.

McCallion hopes to mitigate the stigma around mental health.

“Mental health support doesn’t just have to be for when you’re having severe symptoms,” McCallion said. “It can be a way of just generally taking care of yourself. Kind of like preventative health care.”

McCallion said CAPS is working to meet students where they are, including through library SkillShops and outreach by Multicultural Specialist Cedric Aaron.

McCallion praised HSU’s mental health services but did acknowledge a lack of services in the surrounding community.

“I think in terms of the counseling center, the counseling center does a wonderful job with that support,” McCallion said. “In terms of our community, there is a need for additional mental health care. But that’s not just mental health, that’s health care in general because of where we live.”

Both McCallion and Mistler emphasized that those students who do use HSU’s services see verifiable benefits.

“Dozens of studies confirm that medical and counseling services reduce the risk for students of catastrophic outcomes, help with anxiety and depression, and increase the chances of students graduating,” Mistler said in the email. “If there’s a message here, it’s to encourage people to use the available resources.”

Mistler noted that HSU’s outreach efforts have produced an increase in student visits to counseling services of about 5% each year.

Mistler also pointed out that students that receive counseling show improved retention rates and a higher likelihood of graduating.

Mistler and Eisenberg plan to prepare a CSU-wide analysis of mental health in spring 2020, which they hope will provide more information on the state of student mental health.

Per the CAPS website: You can reach a CAPS therapist by phone at all hours at (707) 826-3236. In emergency situations, you should call Humboldt County Mental Health at (707) 445-7715 or dial 911.

You may also reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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