Over the course of the past few months, we've been doing a community read of the book "Crazy: A Father's Search Through America's Mental Health Madness," by Pete Earley. The story begins with a college student who needs help through his campus counseling, and goes on from there. In a county with 240,000 full-time residents who co-exist with 66,000 college students (University of Florida and Santa Fe College) during most of the year, we essentially are a college town with diverse populations, in a state that has turned down Medicaid expansion, and we are seeking to come up with a better understanding of how to help people who need it.
The tragedy at UC-Santa Barbara has brought up many recurring issues that we frequently talk about, including mental health of college students. The national statistics will tell you that anxiety is now the top issue facing college students who visit our counseling centers, and we're doing a better job of reviewing incidents that might be indicators of distress on our campuses. We're looking at best practices on behavioral consultation teams, and training faculty and staff to identify individuals who need assistance. But what about those who tangentially touch our campuses? The ones who don't attend enough to rise to the occasion of being noticed, or aren't actually students anymore?
They are still part of our larger community, and certainly can come right onto any open campus whether they are enrolled or not. We train for terrible incidents, and practice communicating with students by text or loudspeaker, but at the end of the day, we need to talk about mental health as a community issue beyond just our campuses. We need to understand the process of what options are available (or not), and how the mental health system connects with the criminal justice system and what types of resources are available. More importantly, we need to advocate for funding, for training, for support for those who need help, and to do so by being truly engaged citizens--voting, contacting elected officials, and educating our leaders on what we need to do to make this country a better place for all. If you haven't read this book, please do, it's a great place to start and to understand the difficult cycle of reality for those who are just like any of us, but have a mental illness.