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UC Davis Hosts Talk on Regional Mental Health Services

By Cody Kitaura/Dateline on November 12, 2019 in University

UC Davis was home last week to a ground-up discussion of how to improve mental health services in the region.

A number of chapters of the National Alliance On Mental Illness, or NAMI, gathered on campus Friday (Nov. 8) with health care providers, community advocates and family members of people with mental illness to talk about what’s working and what needs improvement in areas like housing, criminal justice, access to services and services for youth.

“It’s all about the conversation,” said campus Police Chief Joe Farrow, who serves on the board of directors for NAMI California and suggested UC Davis as the host location for the meeting. “I can talk, but I can also be the sponge.”

He said he learned several things from the other people at his table, including the fact that some students aren’t as aware of the mental health resources on campus as he thought. He said he was also able to correct misconceptions about what police officers do when interacting with people who have mental health issues.

Jonathan Raven, chief deputy district attorney for Yolo County, sat next to Farrow at a table for people interested in discussing mental health and the criminal justice system. Raven said he hopes to form a countywide task force of plainclothes officers and mental health experts who can be called to deescalate situations where someone is experiencing a mental health crisis and where the presence of an armed, uniformed officer could escalate tensions.

Woman sits at table, talking to others.
Lisa Smoliarchuk said she “tried to include the voices of the UC Davis students” in breakout discussions. (Cody Kitaura/UC Davis)

“We have task forces for all sorts of things,” Raven said. “Why can’t we have one for mental health?”

NAMI holds five regional meetings in California each year, and this is the first time a meeting has been centered on breakout sessions meant to gather feedback and input from attendees, NAMI California advocacy coordinator Avery Hulog-Vicente said.

“This is true grass roots,” she said. “Our advocates can walk away with some kind of elevator speech — they’ll have solutions to share with their local policymakers.”

Lisa Smoliarchuk, president of the UC Davis chapter of NAMI and a senior biochemistry and molecular biology major, said seeing a group of people talk about solutions and advocacy inspired her to integrate the same goals into the student NAMI group.

“It’s actually community mobilizing and that’s making change happen,” she said.

For senior Yasmin Jazayeri, a neurobiology, physiology and behavior major and co-chair of the UC Davis Student Mental Health Coalition, the event was an opportunity to see if the stigma her group tries to reduce is also an issue for others.

“I wanted to know what goes on beyond [campus],” she said.

Training opportunities

  • Gatekeeper Training Study — For teaching assistants, staff and faculty, to help equip them with the skills and knowledge to comfortably and confidently speak to students about mental health concerns and refer the students to appropriate mental health resources. Send an email to express your interest, and indicate in your email which of two sessions you wish to attend: Wednesday or Thursday, Nov. 20 or 21, both from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Student Health and Wellness Center. In return, you will receive an invitation email from “Support-wellness-study @ ucdavis.edu” with a subject line that reads, “Invitation to a UC Davis Pilot Study of Training to Support Student Mental Health.” The email contains instructions for completing a pretraining questionnaire. This training is offered as part of a study sponsored by the Division of Student Affairs.
  • Tools for Managing and Supervising Employees Struggling With Mental Health Challenges — Training for managers and supervisors, on when to intervene, skills to intervene effectively, and coping strategies to manage stress associated with intervening. 1-5 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 3. Register by email.

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