Orange Coast College’s mental health center, which offers free services to students at no cost, received two new grants this year, designed to boost mental health outreach on campus.

Funding came from the Coast Community College District and the county of Orange and totals $265,000. It is expected to go toward increased therapist and health educator hours, faculty training and a mental health kiosk for students to access resources and information or have a quick assessment performed.

Larry Valentine, director of the mental health center and a licensed marriage and family therapist, said paying attention to mental health on campus should be a top priority.

“School is a part of people’s lives but there’s so much more going on, whether it be family issues, whether it be relationship issues, whether it be just individual things that folks have through trauma,” he said. “With all of these different things, they affect your ability to succeed in class, in jobs.”

Brandon Middleton, an 18-year-old photography major, agreed. He said the stress of managing a new schedule and responsibilities adds to the stress felt by many college students.

“You’re having your school and then your work life outside of it,” he said. “You have to combine both of them and time manage. There’s a lot of students, they have no time for school because of work… or they don’t have time for work because of school… so that creates a lot of stress or anxiety build up.”

The grant comes as suicide rates are rising across the country.

Even though global suicide rates have dropped one-third since 1990, the trend has reversed in the U.S., where suicides have increased by one-third since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The effects of this trend can be seen on campus, where on Feb. 27, a young woman was found in a bathroom stall after slicing her wrist. She survived in part because of a combined effort by Campus Safety and paramedics.

Valentine said current political turmoil may add to students’ stress and anxiety.

Social unrest, fears over changes to immigration policy and the status of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program could all be contributing factors to a 30 percent jump in the number of students seeking mental health support that occurred several semesters ago.

Valentine said that the goal of the mental health center is to reach students before they end up in crisis and stressed the importance of preventative medicine in overall healthcare.

The new grant will add to the mental health center’s already robust offerings.

Funded entirely by the $20 student health fee and outside grants, the mental health center has 12 therapists and graduate student trainees on staff, who provide 1,100 sessions each semester.

The mental health center can also help students find outside therapists who are covered by the students’ insurance or find low-cost or sliding-scale options for students without insurance.

Students can turn to the mental health center for a variety of issues ranging from acute crisis states, substance abuse, sexual assault to test anxiety.

Tiffany Chantler, a 20-year-old environmental sciences major, said that OCC students face additional mental health challenges not faced by students at four-year schools.

“Because it’s a community college, most people are commuting and it’s hard to establish a student life,” she said. “It’s hard to make friends and I feel like people probably struggle with social anxiety.”

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