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Master of Public Policy Students Partner with SLO County to Develop Better Mental Health Programs

Allison McClain
Master of Public Policy project team

A group of students in the Master of Public Policy (MPP) program is partnering with the San Luis Obispo County Behavioral Health Department to evaluate innovative projects that address mental health needs in the county.

As a part of California’s Mental Health Services Act, the county received funding to develop programs that promote positive mental health and reduce the negative impact of mental illness. This funding sparked the creation of small-scale projects to address mental health concerns.

From peer mentorship programs for Latina women to trauma-informed care training for employees, the programs address different concerns affecting people in San Luis Obispo. The act was designed to encourage innovative approaches to mental health.

“One of the requirements of getting the funding is that it’s a brand-new program, a unique way of providing a service,” MPP student Ty Ulrey said. “It’s unique that they can fund these programs with the full expectation that they might not work.”

Now, a team of five MPP students are surveying providers and evaluating the programs to evaluate which ones are worth implementing permanently. The County of San Luis Obispo is partnering with Cal Poly’s public policy program to collect data, interview providers and find out which programs are effective.

“Rather than creating a huge program and the infrastructure to support it and hope it goes right, these are smaller-scale interventions to see what works,” Elizabeth Lowham, co-director of the MPP program, said.

Students designed the evaluation process and are working with key providers who helped develop and facilitate the programs. The evaluation process includes two components: collecting statistics and data and qualitative interviews with providers to hear about their experience with the programs.

“This is also leading to connections in local government,” MPP co-director Martin Battle said. “We’re an important institution in San Luis Obispo County, and we should play a role to help good governance.”

The students’ final report will go to the State of California, and the State will work in collaboration with San Luis Obispo County to decide the next steps for the programs.

“It’s a great way to serve the community in a mutually beneficial way,” Ulrey said. “It gives students relevant work experience, and then the County needs independent evaluators. It’s a really cool partnership between Cal Poly and behavioral health. The more that those relationships and bridges can be built, the better.”

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