Mental health issues on the rise on college campuses

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Mental health is an issue that is becoming more prominent among young adults. Anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are only a few of the most severe issues. People dealing with these problems often suffer silently, refusing to seek help and often do not realize that help is available. 

College students are not immune to these issues. The number of students requiring mental health services is increasing as the number of students attending college increases. 

In fact, the American Psychological Association said in a 2014 study, “94% of Counseling Center Directors reported in a recent survey that the recent trend toward greater numbers of students with severe psychological problems continues to be true on their campuses.” The association also explains this number increases with each national survey conducted annually. According to a 2018 report by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors, anxiety continues to be the most common issue among college students. This is followed by depression, stress, relationship problems, family concerns, suicidal thoughts, academic performance difficulties, sleep disturbance, loneliness, previous mental health issues and adjustment to a new environment.  


 The DrumBeat staff conducted a survey by polling 100 students on campus at random.

Tyler Junior College is susceptible to these issues. TJC is in the heart of Smith County, a county with one of the highest suicide rates in Texas, according to UT System researchers. The study found that from 2011 to 2015, the county’s suicide rate reached 17 suicides per 100,000 residents, holding the highest rate in comparison with Texas’ top 25 most populous counties. Researchers also found suicide rates in Northeast Texas have been higher than those in the rest of Texas overall since 2005 and continue to rise.

With this in mind, TJC and four other community college counseling centers in Texas were examined to see how each addresses mental health on campus. 

Staff Size

TJC has one Licensed Professional Counselor, Tracey Williams, who can see students. However, if Williams is unavailable when a crisis occurs, Rebecca Sanders, the director of public affairs and media relations, said “the director of disability services is a licensed counselor and can assist.” Sanders added the college also has “certified peace officers as part of campus police who are trained in mental health screening and crisis protocols.” 

This year, TJC has reached a record enrollment of 12,585 students. However, this is split among four campus locations and online students, as well as those attending on the main campus. Sanders said TJC’s main on-campus enrollment is 8,298. 

“The other locations are considered branches of our main campus. Branches do not offer the same services as the main campus,” Sanders said. Only the main campus offers counseling services. 

Out of 100 TJC students polled, 75% of students were aware of counseling services offered on campus, but 25% were not. 

 Similar to TJC, Del Mar and Amarillo College have enrollment sizes of more than 12,000 students. However, Del Mar has two LPCs, one LPC intern, one part-time LPC intern and two graduate student trainees on staff, according to Johanna Torres, an LPC on staff at the college. Amarillo College has one full-time LPC and one part-time intern, said Amber White, an LPC at the college. 

Graphic by Kathryn Bogle
Four community colleges were surveyed comparing their estimated enrollment numbers to their number of on-campus counselors.

With a lower enrollment of approximately 5,000 students, Kilgore College has three LPC’s on staff, according to Pam Gatton, a counselor at the college. She said two of them take on most of the workload, while the third is available for any students who the first two are unable to see. 

Navarro College has one LPC for 8,000 students with a backup on staff for crisis services, as stated by Philip Johnson, the director of Disability Services at Navarro College.

Accreditation

The International Association of Counseling Services, a voluntary accreditation association for colleges, recommends the staff-to-student ratio be as close as it can to one counselor per 1,000-1,500 students. Since TJC’s main campus enrollment is 8,298, TJC’s staff-to-student ratio is 1-to-8,298.

While TJC’s counseling center is not accredited by IACS, the organization accredits numerous colleges and university counseling clinics throughout the world, including larger institutions in Texas, such as Texas State University, the University of Texas in San Antonio and Rice University. They offer accreditation for community colleges as well, as reported by Nancy E . Roncketti, the executive director of IACS. 

“This has been a recent change at IACS and right now we have one community college going through its evaluation for accreditation process,” Roncketti said.

TJC’s academic accreditation is through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The only specifically stated accreditation standards for counseling services from the 2018 Edition of the Principles of Accreditation: Foundation for Quality Enhancement reads: “The institution ensures an adequate number of academic and student support services staff with appropriate education or experience in student support service areas to accomplish the mission of the institution.” 

Types of Services

At TJC there is a Counseling Services center that provides “brief, solution-focused counseling for students who are facing personal difficulties that have become a barrier to academic success,” as stated on the TJC website’s description. 

Many people often confuse the type of services that TJC offers in comparison to those offered at outside counseling organizations. A report by May Sobhy and Marion Cavallaro titled “Solution-Focused Brief Counseling in Schools: Theoretical Perspectives and Case Application to an Elementary School Student” defines brief solution-focused counseling in agency settings as “valued because of the demands of managed health care and their limits on the number of sessions.” 

Solution-focused brief counseling does not cover more severe psychological issues students may have, and those who need long-term care or have more immediate needs are referred to the services in the community, as also stated on the TJC website’s description. The counseling services center recommends students who feel they are “in crisis” to go directly to the local hospitals’ emergency rooms. 

“Students have access to many counselors and resources,” Sanders said. “We work together with our community partners to provide the services that students need.”

Services in the community include the Andrews Center, the UT Health East Texas Behavioral Health Center, the East Texas Crisis Center, and more in Tyler and its surrounding communities.

Gerald B. Sklare in “Brief Counseling That Works: A Solution-Focused Approach for School Counselors and Administrators” explains “the use of SFBC [solution-focused brief counseling] is valuable in school settings as well since school counselors are responsible for large caseloads of students and rarely see students for long-term counseling.” 

TJC students can schedule appointments with Williams. Based on the appointment request form on the TJC website, students can select a time from 9 to 11 a.m. or 1 to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. In the 16-week semesters, there is a six-session limit for enrolled students seeking counseling.  

According to IACS, “Since the standard ratio of mental health professionals to students is 1 to 1,000-1,500, a counseling center with a higher ratio is legally vulnerable. That vulnerability increases as the center’s ratio increases.” An example given by IACS states if a student needing mental health attention were to be put on a waiting list ended up harming themselves or others, and it was found out that they did not receive the services needed in a timely manner, the institution would likely be at a higher legal risk. Institutions with higher ratios typically have longer wait times.

Ryan Brown, a student at TJC, said his experiences with counseling services have been “very professional” and that it “took a week to get the first session.”

Most of the colleges surveyed offer similar types of services as TJC with links to the local community partners, as well. 

 Del Mar offers community outreach with a referral list that updates every semester. This community college is equal in enrollment to TJC and offers a wider range of counseling services, such as group therapy, couples counseling and crisis debriefing.

 Kilgore College offers the same brief short-term counseling as TJC does. They also offer community outreach to students who need longer-term care.

 Philip Johnson, the director of Disability Services at Navarro College, said the institution offers counseling services with LPC Leanne Leonard. The type of services offered are short-term, crisis counseling, short-term counseling, group counseling, and mental health and medication referrals, as noted on the Navarro College website. They offer links to the community, as well. 

Amarillo College’s website states their counseling center helps “students to identify and deal more effectively with their psychological, behavioral, interpersonal and situational difficulties.” They offer community referrals if the issues students bring to them are “outside the scope” of their counselors.

Available Help

It is evident that community colleges offer counseling services, but the types and methods of each vary. The National Council on Disability conducted a Mental Health Report in 2017, which explained, “the growth in the number of students needing mental health services highlights weaknesses in current services and supports offered by colleges.” The lack of funding for such services also contributes greatly to these weaknesses in the types of services offered at community colleges, according to the report.

Mental health problems can affect anyone, but college students face unique situations that can lead to mental health issues in various forms. For many, college may be the first time they leave home and experience a new environment. For others, learning to manage the stress of classes can be overwhelming. And for most, the balance between school, work and life may pose a challenge. Students do not have to suffer in silence. Help is available.

Outside Services include:

The Andrews Center: 903-597-1351

UT Health East Texas 

Behavioral Center: 903-266-2200 

East Texas Crisis Center: 903-595-5591 

Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) 

Crisis/Depression Textline: – text “GO” to 741-741