Engemann Health Center adds mental health resources to student services

Health Center employees expand support options for students.

In response to concerns over the increase in anxiety and depression among students, the USC Engemann Student Health Center added a slate of mental health support services and staff to provide students with more resources.

"We were having a really hard time keeping up with need here," Executive Director for Student Mental Health Robert Mendola said. "That was one of the main proponents for showing the numbers and productivity of our own staff."

With a 1:1800 student-to-faculty ratio in the past, Engemann mental health was routinely forced to refer students elsewhere for help 70% of the time, he said. To achieve the nationally recommended ratio of 1:1000, the Engemann Center hired five new counselors this summer, bringing their total staff of therapists to 25. Mendola said the center would add five more by December.

"Our responsibility is to find a good resource for referrals," Mendola said, "We're not sending people to places that don't exist or people who we don't think do a good job or a distance that makes no sense for a student to go to."

The new staff will train Resident Advisors on campus, according to Mendola, as well as provide mental health support to the annual 10% increase in students who are expected to request services.

"When I lived on campus I would get emails from my RA's about mental health events and resources," said Christine Bach, a former USC resident. "It's always helpful when RA's can inform their residents about these type of things."

The new support service program includes "Let's Talk" where therapists are at different locations to meet with students. The center has already two public meetings to discuss suicide prevention strategies, but no students attended, Mendola said.

One of the messages Mendola said he hopes the center conveys is that students "learn to ask for help."

Students can request help through a phone or in-person consultation. After making the initial contact, students are set up with a counselor on a short-term basis.

Counselors meet with students for six to eight therapy sessions. Students who need medication see an in-house psychiatrist who monitors their needs for six to eight months. For additional help beyond those designated periods, Engemann works with a student's insurance to find an out-of-house provider.

Behavioral consultants are also available during primary care visits to address students who come in with concerns and distress, but do not want to seek out counseling.

USC has initiated a Community Liaison program as well to create awareness for the available services and bring the community together. Through the program, each school will have one faculty member students can turn to.

"It helps a lot that USC is creating a greater visibility of their mental health center and its resources." Sarah Ching, a senior at USC said. "By making themselves more apparent on campus, they can reach out to a lot more students."

Ruby Yuan and Regina Pullens also contributed to this piece.