By Madison Heiser
Photo illustration by Victoria Deal
Tyler Junior College offers mental health services to its students through its on-campus counseling office, located on the third floor of Rogers Student Center. Currently, the office has one counselor on staff, Tracey Williams, to assist students in handling personal issues that affect their experience at TJC.
According to TJC’s counseling services website, “the overall goal is to assist the student by stabilizing mood, discussing plausible solutions and providing information about services both on campus and in the community that may be of assistance.” Students are allowed six counseling sessions per long semester and must be enrolled at TJC to receive services. Costs are covered through the $35 student health fee charged with tuition.
During the 2019-20 school year, TJC’s Student Senate formed a Health and Safety Committee to address overall wellness issues within the student body. According to Kaden Phinney, Student Senate’s current executive president, the main goal of the committee was to obtain a second counselor on campus.
“After researching and finding out statistics of counselor to student ratios, almost every other school within a 100-mile span had a better ratio. Ours is 12,000 students to one counselor,” Phinney said.
According to an article from The DrumBeat from September 2019, Kilgore College had three licensed professional counselors on staff for a student body of approximately 5,000, and Del Mar college staffed four counselors and two graduate students for a student body of more than 12,000. TJC has one counselor on staff for a student body of 12,007.
According to Phinney, Student Senate was ready to present a proposal to TJC’s Faculty Senate to hire another counselor in March. However, the COVID-19 pandemic cut the in-person semester short and therefore halted the proposal.
“COVID has taken a big hit on some people’s mental health, and I love that TJC is trying to keep it an important subject,” Phinney said.
According to a Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll, 53% of U.S. adults reported their mental health has been adversely affected as a result of COVID-19.
Additionally, the U.S. National Library of Medicine conducted a study among college students in which 71% reported increased stress and anxiety due to COVID-19. Smith County alone holds the highest suicide rate among the top 25 most populous Texas counties, according to a 2015 University of Texas Health study.
“The counselor we have right now is doing an amazing job, but for effectiveness reasons, I do believe we need to hire one or two more counselors,” Phinney said. He also said picking up the proposal to the Faculty Senate would be the next step in encouraging the school to hire another counselor.
This semester, TJC has partnered with UT Health East Texas to provide additional mental health services to students. Services will be provided at no further cost to students.
“If TJC counseling office cannot accommodate, the student may be given a number to call and would schedule an ‘appointment’ with UT Health, or with the student’s permission UT Health may contact the student to schedule an appointment,” said Dana Ballard, director of campus services at TJC.
Ballard said these psychotherapy and behavioral health services are designed to help students suffering from anxiety, depression, stress, phobias, trauma and various mental conditions. Due to circumstances amid COVID-19, appointments are held via virtual tele-psych services, but some circumstances may warrant an in-person visit.
To schedule a counseling appointment at TJC, students should visit the Counseling Services website at tjc.edu/counseling. Students may also contact Williams, TJC’s counselor, at (903) 510-2041 or firstname.lastname@example.org.