How CSULB is innovating and expanding student mental health services

Published December 4, 2023

During their first two years at Cal State Long Beach, El Nicklin felt anxious and overwhelmed. Nicklin was afraid to speak in public, experienced depression, and felt like they could have a panic attack at any moment. 

But eventually, they reached out to Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), set up an appointment and arranged for longer-term counseling that could be covered by their insurance. 

El Nicklin, CSULB student
El Nicklin

“Doing that for myself through CAPS made almost an immediate difference in my academics, and working through my anxiety helped me get more involved on campus,” said Nicklin, now a fourth-year philosophy major and multimedia managing editor for the Daily 49er

“So, it not only fixed problems, but also made me more eager to do things that were good for me.”  

Nicklin went from feeling panic about making a Zoom call to conducting multimedia training sessions for colleagues at the Daily 49er.  

Stress – whether it’s anxiety from upcoming finals, the holidays or world events – can feel unbearable. Sometimes people might not know where to turn. But Cal State Long Beach offers a growing variety of mental health resources for those in need.  

Here’s an update on mental health initiatives – some new, some long-established – that are ongoing throughout campus. 

New Initiatives 

The Mobile Crisis Unit received a lot of attention when it was announced as part of a 360-degree initiative in May 2022 and launched in July 2022. When a student has a psychiatric crisis or emergency, two mental health professionals can respond, rather than uniformed University Police officers. The Campus Assessment & Stabilization Team (CAST) was made possible with a $400,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 

Melissa Norrbom Kawamoto
Melissa Norrbom Kawamoto

Since its launch, CAST has responded more than 40 times without police officers, said Melissa Norrbom Kawamoto, executive director of strategic initiatives in Student Affairs.

A peer-to-peer texting initiative involving student peer mentors started in spring 2022. When it launched, it reached 1,387 transfer students. Now, approximately 22,000 students, or half the CSULB student population, are engaged in the program. 

“If we can address small things that students are struggling with early on in the semester, then we can avoid the crisis,” Norrbom Kawamoto said. 

In December 2022, Student Affairs partnered with Administration and Finance to create signs for every parking structure with emergency and crisis information available on QR codes. The topics range from self-care during finals to Beach Wellness to “There is Hope,” an anti-suicide initiative. By fall 2023, QR codes had been scanned 621 times.  

Beth Lesen
Beth Lesen

“We’re on the edge of innovation,” said Beth Lesen, vice president for Student Affairs. “These are great things that other campuses weren’t doing. Very few campuses in the country had done what we were doing, but now you’re starting to see it more.” 

However, mental health is not about specific or new programs, but how all the projects operate simultaneously throughout campus, stressed the Student Affairs team. 

“It’s not about a silver bullet, or one or two special things we do,” Lesen said. “It’s really an ongoing effort, and doing 60 things, so we reach all sorts of different people. We’ve taken years, decades really, of literature, of research, and pulled every single piece we could find to put together a comprehensive approach to mental health.” 

Damian Zavala
Damian Zavala

Damian Zavala, associate vice president of health and wellness, said Student Affairs is working across campus to create “a community of care.” 

“There should be no wrong door for students,” he said. “We believe that mental health work is everyone’s work. It’s part of everyone’s job on campus to look out for our students, look out for each other. We’re looking at not just getting the information and resources to the students, but to the family, the parents, the community around the student.” 

Faculty involved, too 

Bonnie Gasior, a Spanish professor at The Beach, co-founded the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) program at the CSUs in 2019.  

Since then, Gasior and a team of other CSU professors have trained more than 700 faculty members in MHFA across all 23 campuses. More than 240 faculty at CSULB have been trained to spot warning signs in students struggling with stress, anxiety and other mental health issues, and direct those students to appropriate resources.  

Other faculty and staff have been involved in Wellness Ambassador Training, a new initiative that assists fellow faculty and staff in identifying students in need and/or experiencing mental health challenges and guides them toward available resources. CAPS director Amanda De Loera-Morales and Basic Needs director Danielle Muñoz have helped lead this interdisciplinary endeavor. 

In addition, biology professor Kelly Young has worked to lead the Advancing Inclusive Mentoring/Beach Mentor program, now a recurring training program at the Faculty Center. This program shares best practices on how faculty can mentor students in a positive, inclusive and holistic way to support their professional growth and mental health.

Other Efforts 

The Campus Assessment, Response & Evaluation for Students (CARES) is a team of staff and faculty members across campus that provides early intervention and crisis mitigation for students. Students who exhibit behaviors or disclose personal challenges related to their personal, physical or emotional well-being can be referred to CARES, which is well-versed in campus and external community resources. By fall 2023, CARES had served 576 students, with 864 total referrals made. 

The Beach also features initiatives run by students, including Project OCEAN and Sisterfriends. Project OCEAN (On-Campus Emergency Assistance Network) focuses on students acting as peer educators and mentors who aim to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide, while encouraging dialogue.  

Sisterfriends is a student-run support group for Black women that meets weekly in the University Student Union. 

Samyiah Bryant-Taylor
Samyiah Bryant-Taylor

“In my first year, that was really helpful, to get me to have more of a community, because you can feel kind of isolated as a freshman,” said Samyiah Bryant-Taylor, a second-year psychology student and Project OCEAN peer mentor. “That was a great experience. College is just a very stressful thing to be going through. Every single day you’re taking a step toward your future, so it can be very stressful.” 

CAPS also offers individual and group sessions for students. Group sessions include Grieving with Grace, Moving Between Worlds (for Asian American and Pacific Islander women), Managing Moods and Finding Your Calm, according to CAPS director De Loera-Morales.  

Plans for the future 

CAPS has expanded its reach this fall semester, spreading counselors and case managers to satellite locations where the students are: residence halls, the University Student Union, the Student Recreation and Wellness Center, Student Health Services and Academic Services. CSULB is the first in the CSU system to take this approach, according to Student Affairs. 

The university aims to make wellness training available for all faculty and staff, with numerous in-person and online sessions happening each semester.  

And Student Affairs – along with other departments on campus – is ramping up its communications and marketing efforts. In spring 2023, the Academic Senate adopted an optional syllabus statement addressing mental health and well-being resources for students, accompanied by a QR code. 

CSULB will host a “CSU Be Well” conference on March 22, 2024, providing an opportunity for leaders across the CSU system to exchange ideas and strategies toward bolstering mental health support on campus. 

“A central feature of our plan is making sure our approach to mental health on campus is equitable and inclusive for historically minoritized communities,” Lesen said. “We are moving mental health into spaces where (students) are anyway. We want to make mental health resources equitable, inclusive and just. We’re well on the road to shifting this campus until everyone is involved with that effort.”