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Student organizations seek to reduce stigma, expand mental health resources

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These student organizations offer peer-led support to students.


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FEBRUARY 27, 2023

Where there are gaps in mental health services at UC Berkeley, student organizations are looking to fill them.

On campus, seeking mental health resources can feel like a “wild goose chase” of referrals, noted Wesley Lu, external associate at the ASUC Mental Health Commission.

While Counseling and Psychological Services, or CAPS, works to improve awareness and accessibility to its services, there are still barriers to receiving support for mental health, according to Daniella Ivanir, the executive director of Lean On Me, a text hotline that provides a free, nonemergent and confidential place to talk.

“I think there’s a lot of strength in a student-run organization when it comes to mental health,” Ivanir said. “I think UC Berkeley students understand the specifics of the college experience and the Berkeley experience in a way professional counselors wouldn’t be able to, and that is very unique.”

Ivanir noted that peer support may be preferred for topics like dating, loneliness and friendships due to a “relatability” factor.

She also noted that even when people do want to use student-run services, they may shy away due to stigma around mental health care.

“I definitely think that strengthening the amount of outreach that is done, really educating students on all of their different options is the kind of improvement that I want to see with all these different groups,” Ivanir said.

Further, student-run organizations are separate from University Health Services, or UHS, and CAPS, according to Ivanir. By the ability to work “autonomously,” student organizations can get around long wait times to focus on supporting students, she added.

UHS spokesperson Tami Cate noted that campus is aware students want a variety of options for accessing mental health care, and UHS changed its policy to allow students to make CAPS appointments same-day or up to five days out in order to avoid long wait times.

At Art and Mind, students can attend workshops or recurring meetings without scheduling an appointment time to simply destress and make art, noted Jenny Chinnapha, president of Art and Mind.

Another place students can find immediate support is the Muslim Mental Health Initiative, or MMHI, where each therapist is available for a total of 24 hours each week, according to Manaal Siddiqui, the executive director of MMHI. Therapists are contracted from Maristan, a group that provides Muslim-identifying therapists who understand the “unique” challenges Muslim students face.

“That resource, having the ability to talk to someone who’s Muslim-identifying and having three different potential people they can go to for support — they indicate that it’s really beneficial to them,” Siddiqui said. “We’re hoping to make sure our utilization increases. We know the demand is there.”

Contact Chrissa Olson at 


FEBRUARY 27, 2023