By Jillian Acri, Gabby Gambuzza and Myles Jones
At Suffolk County Community College, the topic of anxiety and depression is one that mental health services struggle to cover to the best of their abilities. With the amount of student on campus, and the students that may need mental health services, there simply isn’t enough time in the school day to attend to everyone, and counselors are spread too thin.
“We only have three counselors on Ammerman, two on Grant, and one on Eastern. At this time, efforts are being made to add another mental health professional,” said Evan Haun, coordinator of Mental Health Services. “The majority of the mental health coordinators’ day is spent in direct student contact.”
Sessions with a counselor typically last 30 minutes, and a student can have up to five meetings throughout the semester. If they need additional services, the counselors will help them seek outside help. Walk in meetings are especially hard for an already busy center.
“Mental health services are continuously busy, especially during midterms, registration, and finals. Periods of transition can be difficult for many students as they are faced with the challenges that come from change, evaluation, and other circumstances.” Haun explained.
They hold many events throughout the semester, the most recent one being the Suicide Prevention Walk, which had a turnout of 129 students. They also have support groups where students can talk to each other about what they are experiencing. If a student decides to take a semester off due to personal reasons, the counselors help them through the process, and assist in acclimating them to their surroundings when they decide to come back.
Despite the issues SCCC is having concerning the lack of counselors, they are well aware of the need for more on all three campuses. However, counselors also stress the need for everyone on campus to work together.
“We’re not isolated islands between different departments: we work actively with CAB, multicultural affairs, career development, the library, and faculty as a whole. Everyone working together is a much more effective model for giving our services and keeping them accessible,” Haun said.
For the upcoming fall semester, the counselors are already deciding new events and ways to incorporate students into the dialogue of anxiety and depression. They plan on creating new support groups, and educating faculty on subjects such as including psychoeducation, mindfulness, creativity, and emotional support for students while teaching.
“There’s still a stigma with the word mental health: people think of mental dysfunction. It’s a phrase that I think we could find more power in.”
During a student’s time in college, more challenges are faced and more responsibilities are handled inside and outside of academics which can add to stress levels.
“College age is already a time if you are going to be diagnosed or struggle with mental health issues, that’s a time where these things just tend to come out. When you add stressors it can make that happen sooner or worse,” said Sarah Boles, coordinator of mental health services.
“Between the ages 18 and 24, many things are happening developmentally. More mental health issues in general are more likely to come out during this time period and creates one big overlap,” she continues.
During such a crucial time in a student’s life, where they are discovering themselves, deciding the field of work they will want to pursue, and other personal endeavors, many students face battles with stress, anxiety, and depression that they previously may have never had issues with.
“You’re making this big transition at a time where things just tend to come out anyway. College does add another stressor, good and bad. It’s not college itself, it’s the time,” Boles said.
Since 2015, Boles states, “There has been a steady increase every academic year in the number of students and faculty who are becoming more aware and visiting the mental health counselors in seek of help.”
It is more often for females to reach out for help, but noticeably more males have been searching for help as well. Their main goal as mental health coordinators is to provide support and making sure it is known to students what their options are.
“In the past, the No. 1 thing that would bring students to a college counseling center is depression, which is still very common, but it’s interesting because in the past I would say couple years in the five-year window, that’s changed to anxiety related. You see the shift in why people are reaching out for help: they are reaching out because they feel overwhelmed, because they feel anxious and don’t necessarily always know why they’re anxious,” Boles explained.
This is followed by many theories, one being the idea of how connected we are to technology and social media. This newer phenomenon impacts how we feel on a day to day basis. “If you don’t use it in a healthy way, it has more potential to be damaging,” Boles said.
Another theory stated is the economic aspect of pursuing college and the money that goes into education.
While anxiety is considered recently to be the number one reason to bring college students into counseling, Boles mentioned some tips to help relieve nerves.
“It all comes back to finding some sense of balance. Looking at yourself in this holistic way and focus on trying to control what we can. Looking at nutrition and what’s going on in your body and how much time is spent with people who support you,” Boles explained. “It all comes back to prioritizing self-care and checking in with yourself. It feels like it’s not possible because of the level of responsibilities that we have with the little time that we have.”
Students go to the counseling center in different ways, such as being recommended by friends or faculty, and seeking out help on their own. Students are becoming more aware of the services offered and are using them to their best interest. The counseling center is located on the second floor of the Ammerman Building. Students can call for an appointment or even contact Boles and her colleague Evan Haun directly.
Not all students find solace in school counselors, however. Some, like 19-year-old occupational therapy major Sydney Geddes, look for outside help or seek it in close friends and family.
Geddes, as well as plenty of other students on campus, suffers from depression and anxiety. It started in her sophomore year of high school and “the snowball effect just took it to a whole other level,” she said, “I was always joyful and outgoing, but I noticed something was off about myself.” She was never happy with herself, which caused her to isolate herself from others.
“I couldn’t explain to my parents why it was so hard for me to get up this morning to go to class because I myself didn’t even know why.”
Geddes, who is African American, said her parents told her “to stop playing around. In black homes, mental health is a joke and it’s never been taken seriously. So we struggle in silence until our actions make the loudest noise.”
Some positive ways that Geddes found to cope with her depression was with music and art.
“Certain music could make or break me, the sounds of the songs are really key for me,” she said. “Between music and art, I’ve been able to find some peace of mind.”
Being a young adult in this day and age, it is very difficult to get off of our phones. Social media can also play a role in depression and anxiety among young adults.
“Social media definitely plays a key role,” Geddes said. “Social media has a tendency to show you how life should be, according to a perfect world, but it doesn’t show you how life actually is without the edited parts. Seeing beautiful women more beautiful than me with great bodies and having wealth and just success made me envy them and only hate myself even more.”
Of course, as a college student, there are obstacles that can stand in the way of her listening to music, drawing, and painting all day. “Between going to work nearly full-time and being a full-time student, this is pretty stressful, it takes away all of my time to relax.”
Geddes has been off of her medication since she was 17 years old. “They only make me feel worse.”
From going to work right after her classes, Geddes finds herself exhausted at the end of her day with no time to unwind, but to sleep. “All of the things that I have to do throughout the week keeps my mind racing and I guess I don’t catch myself with time to think so I can’t get stuck in my head.”
Despite every other method she’s tried to help extinguish her illness, the main cause for Geddes relief in her depression and anxiety is her boyfriend, Tyler. “Out of all the things I’ve tried, my boyfriend has been the biggest help for me… He helped me learn how to talk about my feelings and not push people away. My life has changed completely ever since.”
‘You’re not suffering alone’
James Stolz, a 19-year-old early childhood education major, considers himself a positive person, but experiences anxiety and depression.
“For a good chunk of my life, I was bullied. I was the one who was invisible for a lot of high school, a point in life that involves academics, friends, girls and getting to know yourself. He described himself as the kind of person who was in a shell for most of high school, and it wasn’t until his senior year when he truly felt comfortable in his own skin.
“It felt nice from being someone who was invisible to someone who was recognized,” Stolz said.
Things changed when he enrolled in college.
“Once college started rolling in, it started hitting me. Hard. It just really sucks,” Stolz said.
“There are the days where I feel the pressure because it’s like, instead of doing this, I could be studying or instead of doing this. I could be working on a project due in two weeks, and when that gets in your head, that kind of mindset, where the stress is following you to where you destress — you can’t escape it,” Stolz said.
On days like this, Stolz is surrounded by supportive friends and parents.
Stolz, who plans to transfer to SUNY New Paltz, where he hopes to “fit it,” also copes by playing video games, listening to his favorite podcast and some good music to debunk the anxiety and depressive thoughts that occur to Stolz. On occasion, there are days where he truly does feel the pressure even while enjoying his favorite destressors.
“A lot of us are going through a lot of crap right now in our lives. Makes sense to just be open and let others know you’re not suffering alone.”