Student culture thrives on reliable, helpful and safe spaces to seek help and support. Palomar College is fortunate to offer an array of health services to students. The Student Health Center, located at the HC & NB buildings, provides both physical and behavioral health services, everything from STI testing, monthly vaccination events and counseling services.

With the COVID-19 three-year anniversary making its way this year, the majority of Palomar students has experienced an impact in their daily lives, whether it be domestic abuse, substance abuse and any variation of mental health decline. It’s important that they are informed about the wonderful privilege we have to access these services on campus.

In 2022, the National Library of Medicine published a systematic review of how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted mental health among adolescents and college students as well as health care workers. The researchers pooled the data from January 2020 to July 2021 and found that their five studies on children and 16 studies on college students “found that both groups reported feeling more anxious, depressed, fatigued, and distressed than prior to the pandemic.’’

Palomar student Esteban Marin is one among many students who uses the resources offered at Palomar to help with his mental health.

Impact: How was the COVID-19 pandemic taken a toll on your mental health?

Esteban: “I think in general, COVID made me a more anxious person. I had been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder a couple months prior to lockdown, and being stuck indoors definitely didn’t help. I think COVID really affected my ability to interact with people and make new friends.”

Impact: How did you come about using the Student Health Services on campus?

Esteban: “I have used the Behavioral Health Services to get therapy through school. I had a pretty rough start to my year, and a friend of mine told me about the therapy resources available at Palomar. So I then looked into it, and since traditional therapy can be very expensive and I was having trouble trying to see one in a timely manner, it was really a great resource for me and has been essential to maintaining my mental health.”

Meet Dr. Patrick Savaiano

Dr. Patrick Savaiano sits with his hands folded, wearing a gray and white grid-pattern shirt and brown trousers.

Dr. Patrick Savaiano. (Photo by Esteban Marin)

This department has taken great responsibility and passion to provide amazing resources that are here to support the students of Palomar. The Behavioral Health Counseling Services run by lead Psychologist Patrick J. Savaiano and mental health practitioner, Lenka Schalkle, as well as the administrative staff of the department. Students of all backgrounds, orientations, genders, creeds, etc. can benefit from these resources, whether it is Alcohol Anonymous meetings, mindfulness seminars, or support groups provided with an eclectic variety of resources.

Savaiano is the only full-time licensed professional at the San Marcos campus, occasionally making his rounds to the Fallbrook Education Center. Originally from Chicago, Ill., he completed his undergraduate work at the University of Notre Dame and earned his Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology and a Doctoral Degree in Clinical Psychology from Adler University. He completed his Predoctoral Internship at San José State University’s Counseling and Psychological Services and his Postdoctoral Residency at Kaiser Permanente, Santa Clara. Prior to joining the team at Palomar College in 2019, he worked as a staff psychologist for UC San Diego Counseling and Psychological Services.

Impact Magazine had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Patrick Savaiano to speak about the Behavioral Health Counseling Services (BHCS) as well as his observations as a licensed professional working here at Palomar.

Impact: What kind of aid does the Student Health Services offer?

Savaiano: “What’s great about the Student Health Center and Behavioral Health Center is that we offer many services to our students nearly on every campus site, primarily San Marcos being the hot spot of it all. We have a full-time nurse practitioner as well as a medical doctor. Where they can prescribe some medications. They offer some or most STD testing, women’s health treatments, vaccinations, physicals and such. So you know, a cool range of basic health services for the students. And so for the mental health services, obviously there’s academic counseling. But now, for some time there’s been student behavioral counseling services.

“When you think of the student health centers, the department is kind of in three areas. You have the student health centers, which is essentially the medical side. And then there’s the behavioral health counseling services, which is mental health. And then there’s health promotion, which is our outreach in our student peer mentors and stuff like that.”

Impact: “Are you the only licensed professional on campus?

Savaiano: “We have a number of therapists licensed like myself, five of them part-time, most bilingual who have a variety of identity , background and expert layers of expertise. All sources of aid can be provided once the student health fee is paid.”

Impact: “How much is this fee?”

Savaiano: “That ranges from $23, however, it will increase within the year to $26. But once that fee is paid during the beginning of the semester, the student has access to the resources here at the Student Health Center, including the Behavioral Health Center.”

A bar graph shows the current trend of why Palomar students use the campus's behavioral health services.

(Erica Howell/The Telescope)

Impact: “Would you say Palomar’s Behavioral Health center is a safe place for minority groups?”

Savaiano: “Yes. “We do our best to reflect our student body. So whenever we’re hiring, we look at topics of diversity, social justice, multicultural psychology and different areas of expertise that can benefit our students.”

Impact: How has the pandemic affected students? Were there any increase of students coming forth post pandemic seeking assistance?

Savaiano: “Oh yes, I mean, the challenges from the pandemic, I think we’re still not fully realizing or seeing the residual effects of how the pandemic has impacted students here. I’d say easily that certain folks, and even certain populations of folk were severely impacted by being stuck at home. If you’re thinking about our students, many of whom came to campus, got out of their homes to escape challenging home environments. The risk of DV (domestic violence) goes way up.

“And even when it comes to those who struggle with anxiety. The shelter in place protocols definitely creates struggles for those with anxiety disorders. Part of the treatment plan here at Palomar for social anxiety is to go desensitized and get some of those social encounters, but of course being isolated would be made worse and even reinforces the anxiety.”

Impact: “How would you elaborate your professional observation regarding these residual effects that the COVID-19 pandemic has left?”

Savaiano: “ I feel like it is finally coming back together, I’ve noticed more fear in people, perhaps not trusting others. Not believing that others have the best intentions, you know, sure, that could be the case, certainly there are people out there like that. But I think there are still good, in fact great people out there. I don’t think people have all of a sudden, like as a society, become fearful. Of course, news and media could have a strong place in creating that narrative.”

Impact: “How can students reach out and ask for services?”

Savaiano: “So they can walk into our main office here in San Marcos, in the HC building, that is where the medical services are. Then in the NB building, next door is where the Behavior Health services are offered. It can be done in person, of course over the phone and online. By visiting the patient portal on the Behavioral Health Counseling Services website. Fortunately, telehealth services are offered, too, for students who only attend Palomar virtually. So no one can be excluded from our resources. From there, you’ll find the fairly platform to navigate regards to whatever health and wellness needs a student may have.”

Impact: “Any specific services or resources you believe more students should be aware of?”

Savaiano: “There is a relatively new internship program at our Behavioral Health Counseling Center, which brings graduate students who are pursuing their degree and licenses, working under the license of our own therapists here on campus, which obviously gives us the opportunity to see and help more students.”

“As well as a workshop series on coping skills with anxiety, depression, stress and of course self compassion. All coordinated by Lenka Schalkle. We also have our Student Wellness Advocacy Group (SWAG), they’ve been around for awhile. These are students of Palomar who have formulated support groups of their own, the goal being to reduce stigma and barriers regarding mental health in students of all avenues of life. Those are all being improved and continued.”

Overall, it is certain to say that Palomar College is more than efficient when it comes to the vast variety of resources, programs, and services that the Student Health Services has to offer. Now that mental health is becoming a common, controversial topic, taking rank in the limelight more and more every day, we students at Palomar have the opportunities to seek support and help almost effortlessly—thanks to the remarkable students and staff of the Student Health Services Department. •

The front entrance of Palomar College's Behaviorial Health Center on a sunny day.

(Erica Howell/The Telescope)