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'Mental Health Champion' making a difference


More news: "Grants bolster Sac State mental health programs"

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Sacramento State Professor Susan Taylor’s selection by the Sacramento County Division of Behavioral Health Services as a “Mental Health Champion” reflects the good work she’s been doing for the last 12 years since coming to the University.

The “Mental Health Champion” award presentation was scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 5, in the county Board of Supervisors chambers.

Taylor has been able to leverage her academic training with years of professional experience in social work to benefit both the community and the campus. She teaches, but her principal focus is on coordinating mental health programs funded by the county and state.

“I am particularly excited about our student-focused mental health and wellness programs that are attracting attention – and from multiple sectors,” says Taylor.

What makes the programs unique is the partnership between academic and student services. The programs focus on prevention through early intervention. Taylor stresses the need to connect with students before stressful situations become so severe that they can lead to suicide. Taylor spends most of her time collaborating with health center staff and administration, along with faculty, staff and leaders of student organizations to develop training around mental health awareness and intervention.

The stigma often attached to health challenges is being discussed more widely, Taylor notes, but it’s still an issue that needs greater awareness and education. That’s why she is especially encouraged by the cooperation the programs have lately generated.

“We’ve worked closely with many units on campus, but this summer began a wonderful partnership with the College of Natural Sciences (and Mathematics),” Taylor says. Administration, staff and faculty of that college have been very receptive and will likely become campus leaders in this type of programming.

Taylor is no less appreciative of the efforts of Lori Varlotta, vice president of Student Affairs; Joy Stewart James, executive director of the Student Health Center; and Karen Durst, director of Counseling and Psychological Services. “They and their committed staffs have brought terrific energy and vision to this effort,” Taylor says. 

Taylor also cites the important contribution of peer health educators. They are particularly effective, she says, in bringing health and wellness education to fellow students. “The WELL (campus wellness and recreation center) is unique among student health and counseling centers,” Taylor says. “We are very fortunate as a campus community to have such integrative health counseling and outreach on campus.”

Taylor sees Sac State as a community that can benefit from the mental health services that she has helped to deliver in communities ranging from St. Louis, where she received her doctorate, to Miami, where she endured no fewer than three hurricanes. “The last one, a Class 5, was headed straight for Miami,” she notes, “which convinced me that enough is enough.” 

While Professor Taylor decided to take her chances with quake-prone California, she has retained her coastal calling and overlapped it with a rather “untraditional” mental health arena. One of her research areas is oceans and public health. When she is absent from campus, you will most likely find her in Sausalito at the Marine Mammal Center providing “health and wellness” intervention to marine mammals. What are the similarities? It turns out that positive regard and supportive intervention works with all mammals.

For media assistance, contact Sacramento State’s Public Affairs office, (916) 278-6156.

-- Alan Miller