New crisis text line identifies California college student homelessness as big issue

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88343 full

Last May, the California Community College system partnered with Crisis Text Line – a free service funded by grants and donations – to give students an all-hours, anonymous counseling service for mental health emergencies.

“We’ve had over 800 conversations with people in the California Community College system," said Libby Craig, the west coast director for Crisis Text Line. "The highest volume day of week is Wednesday."

The company was founded four years ago and also partners, she said, with Penn State, the University of San Francisco, and Iowa State. In the four years since its founding volunteer counselors have logged 45 million text conversations.

Homelessness, she said, is four times more likely to be a topic of conversation and finances nearly three times by California Community College texters compared to all the other communications the service receives nationwide.

The company knows this because it creates a unique text number for each partnership and topics of conversation are coded, as is the area code of the phone the person is using to text. Craig said the data will be given to California community college administrators to help them improve services. The identity of the person texting remains anonymous. 

California community college students who want to use the service text the word “COURAGE” to the number 741741. An automated response prompts the person texting to say what’s bothering him or her. A trained volunteer then takes over the conversation to offer comfort, resources, or emergency help.

“All of our colleges are aware of the crisis text line and have been making it known to students for use but we’ve also been actively seeking information to determine what the needs are of students related to mental health," said Ryan Cornner, a vice chancellor at the nine-campus Los Angeles Community College District. “Anytime you have items that interfere with a student’s educational process they become an urgency for us.”

Cornner and other college administrators said the text line is a good way to provide students with anonymous help at any time of day on a platform that’s private and that current students feel comfortable using. The text line, he added, is not intended to replace face to face help.

A survey of L.A. community college students last year suggests that many students don’t know their campuses provide in-person counseling.

According to state community college officials about 70 of the state’s 114 campuses have “brick and mortar” student health centers where mental health services are offered. These services are funded by fees paid each semester by students.

Campus officials said they could use more funds. Sacramento heard the message. This fiscal year legislators approved $4.5 million that’ll got to community colleges later this academic year to help improve mental health services.

Los Angeles Community College officials said they’re in need of one employee who can do all the marketing and outreach to students in order to let as many as possible know of the therapy and counseling that’s available to them.

The outreach would also involve explaining what mental health is and how important it is for overall wellness.

“There are students who don’t come in because of the stigma related, surrounding mental health, that somehow it’s something to be ashamed of or the result of bad choices,” said Steven Lee, who oversees student mental health at West L.A. College.

Lee said he’s seen demand for mental health services growing on his campus in the past six years. He and his therapists see about 20 students each week. In that time he's seen how students benefit from counseling that removes obstacles and helps them earn their college degrees.

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