Chico State needs better counseling opportunities post-Camp Fire

Photo credit: Melissa Joseph

Photo credit: Melissa Joseph

For the past year or more, getting counseling when you need it has become more and more of a struggle at Chico State.

If you need to go through the Student Health Center, getting a same-day appointment requires being ready before 8 a.m. to call ahead and try to get in on cancellations.

Otherwise, you’re left waiting for setting appointments weeks ahead. This is not acceptable, and yet students continue to have to wait for mental health services if the Student Health Center is their only resources. It’s not much better around town, either – if you have MediCal the waitlists are long, and same-day help is nearly impossible.

However, all of this is even more of an issue after the Camp Fire. This was made clear last year, when mental health services were left extremely shorthanded after over 20,000 people were displaced. It has a huge impact on the medical community, and it certainly has impacted students as well. Yet Chico State still does not offer any specialized counseling to address this issue, and only has about 11 counselors on hand to address the needs of over 17,000 students and those directly or indirectly affected by the fire.

While Chico State did not have as many students directly affected by the fire as Butte College did, as a major employer in Chico its faculty were severely impacted as was the community. This has had serious ramifications on everything from housing and employment to homelessness, healthcare and more. And these things all affect the livelihood of students also struggling to get by while attending college.

I recently called the Student Health Center to inquire about how counseling and asked what was offered if I were to want counseling specific to trauma around the Camp Fire. I was told that while the center continues to offer counselors at normal hours, they have no training or special programs available for issues specific to the fire or to disaster-related trauma.

That means that students possibly struggling with trauma and anxiety caused by the aftermath of the fire have to wait, and that there aren’t specially-trained counselors available to them either, at least according to the nurse I talked to.

This is very alarming, particularly as a local who has gone to school here for nearly a decade. An entire town was basically destroyed due to this fire, over 20,000 people were displaced (largely in Chico), including hundreds of students – and there is still no additional counseling available?

Even if it weren’t for this fire, the situation for those who need counseling and don’t have the money to go to another provider in the city (or time to wait to get added as a new patient) is dire. Students need a resource for getting counseling more easily.

I understand that it is difficult to secure enough money to pay the providers well enough to keep them at the clinic. But there has to be more options for providing to the increased number of patients still struggling less than a year after the fire.

There definitely needs to be a stronger effort on the part of the university to help the population of students still dealing with the effects of the Camp Fire. Whether they fled their home down the Skyway through flames or now struggle to find housing or employment, their needs have to be met. It’s a mental health crisis that things have not gotten any better almost a year later.

I think it’s a real shame that the university has hardly provided for affected students and community members, when it prides itself on saying #WeAreChico. Nothing has affected Chico like the Camp Fire in decades – so it’s time start doing more for the mental health of students and of this community.

Natalie Hanson can be reached at [email protected] or @nhanson_reports on Twitter.