Since 2021, Critical Funds Bring More Counselors, New Initiatives to Address Students’ Mental Health Needs

A boost in funding means students at CSUN now have expanded access to counselors and other mental health assistance from University Counseling Services (UCS) – from virtual therapy sessions, to healing spaces on campus, to expanded programming for suicide prevention.

“The wellbeing of our CSUN students is paramount to their academic success and this funding allows us to prioritize their mental health needs,” said William Watkins, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students. “I want every student to know that help is available from University Counseling Services if you have a mental health concern. You need never be alone.”

There has been a significant increase in counseling staff at the UCS. Since January 2021, UCS has hired six new counselors, including an urgent care team, said Julie Pearce, UCS director. Staffing has also expanded to include three post-doctoral counselors and work is underway to fill several more open counselor positions for the 2023-2024 year.

“Before the pandemic there was a growing demand for mental health services on campuses,” Pearce said. “The pandemic really increased focus on the mental health needs of college students. Having the spotlight on mental health in this way helped us expand our services and have more resources available for student mental health and wellbeing.”

Pearce credits the $1,364,000 in mental health baseline funding CSUN prioritized from the California State University’s Graduation Initiative 2025 since 2021 for allowing UCS to hire more counselors. Additionally, as part of the CSU5 collaboration between Los Angeles-area CSU campuses, CSUN received $260,000 in funding from private donors this year, along with $250,000 in matching funds from the Matador Match Challenge, to support mental health and wellness, and to expand campus-wide suicide prevention programming. UCS also received a Diversity & Equity Innovation Grant to create multicultural programming in collaboration with the University Student Union (USU).

The recent funding for UCS will help open doors, both in person and virtually, to mental health care for students-in-need. “Increasing overall accessibility to mental health services for our students is really imperative,” Pearce said.

Because of CSUN’s diverse and largely first-generation student population, UCS provides targeted services aimed at underserved groups, including counselor liaisons for Latinx, APIDA, international and other cultural groups, a new Let’s Talk outreach program at the Black House, and a new Trans, Nonbinary, and Gender Expansive support group. 

“Our campus is so diverse and many of our students are from traditionally underserved populations that have experienced health and mental health disparities and who have experienced more stigma in seeking mental health services,” Pearce said. “We’ve really tried to create roles that allow our counselors to connect with those student populations, attend campus events to connect with students and student organizations, , , and to create stronger partnerships with different campus departments.”

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder in 2020, UCS partnered with the USU to host a series of healing spaces where Black/African American and other students and members of the campus community could meet to process what occurred. Since then, UCS and the USU have hosted many other healing spaces or student populations impacted by traumatic events or unique experiences of oppression, including Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) students, LGBTQIA+ students, International students, Latinx students, Armenian students and Ukrainian students.

“Many of our student communities have experienced devastating emotional impacts,” Pearce said. “Our students’ mental health and well-being are impacted by external events, whether it is at the community level or even internationally.” 

While virtual therapy sessions were a necessity during the pandemic, UCS continues to offer them, providing much-needed flexibility for CSU students who may commute long distances to campus or have varied work schedules. “Virtual sessions have been a game changer for a lot of students who in the past would not have been able to come in for services because of their busy schedules,” Pearce said.

At UCS, the chief presenting concern for students is anxiety, followed by stress and depression, Pearce said. Other mental health concerns stem from interpersonal relationships, academic distress, histories of trauma, and suicidality. To help students, UCS offers a range of mental health services including initial evaluations, short-term counseling and psychotherapy, Wellness Workshops, group treatment, psychiatric services, crisis/urgent care services, and case management. 

“I want all students to know that UCS is here for them, and they can feel safe coming in to seek support from our diverse counseling staff,” Pearce said.

For any student experiencing a mental health crisis, UCS is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Walk-in crisis care is available at UCS in Bayramian Hall 520 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. After hours, any student needing emergency mental health care can call (818) 677-2366 and press option 3 to speak with a crisis counselor. 

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