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Anxiety and depression at SCCC

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.

Evan Haun

“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.

RELATED: How social media plays a role in anxiety and depression for college students

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.

Outside support

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.

Sydney Geddes

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.

James Stolz, featured image
James Stolz

“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.”

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How social media plays a role in anxiety and depression for college students

Some would say when you reach college, you start to reach that phase of your life before adulthood. If you’re stressed, should you blame it on teachers, blame it on yourself, or blame it on social media?

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, some factors that cause social media anxiety disorder are interrupting conversations to check your social media accounts, telling people how much time you spend on social media when the reality is another story, using your phone in class and avoiding work to share posts on specific websites. Thirty percent of college students spend more than 12 hours per week and this could lead to them isolating themselves from their work, friends and family.

A study by Stanford’s Children Health found that suicide is the third leading cause of death in 15- to 24-year-olds. There are 25 attempted suicides to one suicide that happened. Females are more likely to commit suicide than males. The study found that 34 percent of students suffered from cyberbullying and only 38 percent admit it to their parents.

Limiting social media usage

A 2018 University of Pennsylvania study monitored 143 undergraduates reducing their use of social media to 10 minutes per platform, per day. The results showed reductions in loneliness and depression.

Research also shows that using social media more than usual can’t just cause anxiety, but also attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, problems with mental functioning and paranoia.

Studies by the American Psychological Association show that college students who use Facebook show signs of psychological disorders like staying away from family members and not being involved in group activities. Students who checked Facebook at least once during a 15-minute period got lower grades.

For one student, social media
is a positive ‘getaway’

Jonathan Pelaez, 18, a liberal arts major is his second semester at Suffolk, said he believes social media can be a getaway from stress.

“Whenever I’m thinking of a test grade, I go on Twitter or Instagram to watch some videos to help me laugh and forget about the test,” Pelaez said. “I definitely don’t think it solves all my problems, but it sure helps me get away with problems in college and life in general.”

Although social media may have negative impacts, it would be unfair to not look at the positives it may provide. Social media provides a method of communication for students and an easy way to message each other through apps like Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram and iMessage. Another advantage that social media provides to college students is being able to gain more knowledge, there’s easier access to relationships.

According to Techjury.net, the use of social media, college students can also feel belittled by watching others party or be intimidated by others for their grades, which leads to cyberbullying. For example, if there’s a party happening, and you didn’t get invited you’re going to feel some type of way. Instead of trying to get invited to the next one, you shut yourself off and don’t make an effort for it because you have accepted defeat.

Photo: Jonathan Pelaez, 18, a liberal arts major.

Liberal arts majors accounted for more than 40% of SCCC grads in past 5 years

Karen Barrera, 18, is a liberal arts major in her second semester at Suffolk. She chose the major because she wasn’t sure what she wanted to study.

“After a semester at Suffolk, I realized there’s nothing wrong with not knowing what I want to study,” Barrera said. “I’ve been thinking of a math professor, but we’ll see what the rest of the semester brings me.”

Barrera isn’t alone.

According to research by Urban.org, 40 percent of students arrive in college with a small idea of what they want to study, or what career they aspire to have in the future. When it’s time to choose a major, it’s usually undeclared or liberal arts, general studies.

In fact, among the five most common majors at Suffolk County Community College, in each of the last five years, liberal arts majors accounted for more than 40 percent of Suffolk’s graduates, according to the school’s 10-year graduation report.

The next most common majors include criminal justice,  nursing and business administration.

Emmanuel Louis-Jeune, 20, is in his third semester at Suffolk. He’s currently studying criminal justice. He grew up watching “Law & Order” with his brothers and uncle and said it played a role in him choosing this major.

“Me and my uncle used to always do everything together, we watched “Criminal Minds” and I grew a huge passion for it,” Louis-Jeune added.

In the 2016-17 school year, there was a 2.6 percent decrease in the number of students who graduated with liberal arts degrees. But that still made up for 42.7 percent of the graduating population.

The 2015-16 school year saw a 4.61 percent increase in the numbers of students in liberal arts from the previous year, with 44.5 percent of students choosing it as their major.

In the 2014-15 school year, there was a minor decrease in the amount of students enrolled, as it was 3729. But, Liberal Arts still remained as the most popular major with 44.7 percent enrolled in it. 16.36 percent of students chose the previous four.

SCCC enrollment expected to continue decline

According to Suffolk County Community College’s fall semester 10-year enrollment report, since 2016, enrollment at the college has dropped by 4.3 percent to about 26,000.

And it does’t look like the trend is going to change any time soon.

Katherine Aguirre, Suffolk’s director of admissions, pointed to a decline in birthrates as “the greatest impact in enrollment.”

“Families with fewer children that filter into the K-12 system will cause a decrease in graduating class sizes,” she said.

As an example, she offered the senior class at Bayport-Blue Point School District, which expects to graduate 181 students in June. The district’s kindergarten class has 143 students. Assuming  that no children leave the district 12 years from now, there will be 38 fewer graduates,  about a 20 percent decrease.

“This is a national trend,” Aguirre said.

During a meeting with faculty and students at the Ammerman campus in February, SUNY Provost Tod Laursen noted that “community colleges are susceptible to a decline in enrollment,” and that the system is looking for ways to stem the problem.

The 10-year enrollment report includes the number of students enrolled in the college every fall semester starting from 2009-2018.

From fall 2009 to fall 2010, there was a increase of 1,925 students, which equated to the largest increase in the 10 years surveyed. This was followed by an increase of 2,151 students between fall 2009 through fall 2011.

Suffolk reached its highest number of students enrolled in fall 2016 with a total of 27,244.

Going forward, Aguirre said the college anticipates an enrollment decrease of about 2 percent in the next year. She said this is part due to a solid stock market and the steady economy.

The college continues to address this trend with numerous recruitment and retention initiatives. That includes leveraging technology, such as online classes, to enhance the student experience and help retain current students.

“Lastly, we will look at the on-boarding process to help students determine career pathways early on in their academic journey,” Aguirre said.

“When the economy is stable and doing well, people do not typically pursue career changes or additional educational opportunities.”

Suffolk to host 2 graduation ceremonies in response to student complaints

Following complaints from the Student Government Association on the Eastern Campus campus, changes are coming to Suffolk County Community College’s commencement celebration this year. The complaints centered on the number of tickets given and transportation to and from the event.

In response, the college will most notably host two commencement ceremonies on May 23. Commencement exercises will take place at 10  a.m. and alternately at 4 p.m., according to a notice sent to the campus community.

The ceremonies will take place in the Field House of the Health, Sports and Education Center, which is located on the Grant campus in Brentwood.

To address the issue of transportation to the campus, SCCC is providing yellow buses that students and family may reserve seats on for a fee to take to and from the Eastern or Ammerman campuses.

With the addition of another commencement, students will be able to receive up to four tickets, as opposed to the two they could receive in previous years. The ticketing system has adjusted to the new circumstances and students may be able to select their preferred time slot, according to the school’s website. 

Graduating students must select the ceremony that they would prefer to attend. In the event one of the ceremonies reaches full capacity, graduates will be directed to RSVP for the alternate ceremony time.

The tickets, which graduations can reserve online, are on a first-come,  first-serve basis, so if one time slot runs out, students will be required to sign up for the other.

SGA’s complaints were one of the main reasons for the changes to graduation, and they’ve continued to be an integral part of the process to create a smooth transition, according to Lisa Hamilton, the director of campus activities on the Grant campus.

“The SGA has been actively involved and has representatives in the Commencement Committee,” she said.

Students, school seek more conversation about mental health

Mental health is often a subject college students shy away from, or make sly jokes about. But it’s a major problem.

Consider that 80 percent of students feel overwhelmed by their academic responsibilities and only 60 percent of these students seek help, according to the National Alliance in Mental Illness. Fifty percent say these struggles affect their grades.

At SCCC, it is a topic dedicated to small sections of professors’ syllabuses, and one small collection of pamphlets in the Health Services Office. 

Mental health issues include but are not limited to: depression, anxiety, eating disorders, addiction and feeling suicidal. The signs can be difficult to spot depending on how the person copes with them, which makes offering aid to those who are struggling that much harder. 

It’s harder to reach out to students who need help at transient schools like Suffolk, experts say.

“The stigma has changed in more recent years, but it’s still difficult to talk about mental health,” said 26-year-old Evan Haun, the coordinator of Mental Health Services on the Ammerman campus, “We try to make ourselves as accessible and seen as possible, visiting as many classrooms as we can to decrease the anxiety of the issue.” 

The transient problem

Suffolk offers many services that fit all types of students, from group sessions to individual counseling, which includes three to five sessions with a counselor. A new service being offered is creative arts therapy, which involves creating paintings, 3D sculpture and other forms of art to help express how one is feeling if they don’t have the words to. Every service is confidential, excluding immediate emergencies, Haun said.

Another option is a group activity called Wind Down Wednesdays that takes place during Common Hour in the Meditation Room of the Babylon Student Center.

While it’s focus isn’t necessarily on mental illness, it does seek to bring comfort and relaxation to those who may feel stressed from school or outside issues. During the meetings, they enjoy meditating, coloring and aromatherapy.

Students interviewed this story said they felt the issue is “extremely important,” and something that should at least be addressed at the beginning of semesters.

However, they said it is one seldom discussed by professors.

“The only time I can remember mental health being discussed in class was psychology, and it was discussed thoroughly. Other than that, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a professor bring it up,” said 19-year-old Stevie Adams, a Radio/TV major from Selden.

The mental health department also feels professors have a sort of responsibility to make the services known to their students.

“It was a hard push to get professors to include information about our services, but I’m happy we did because we’ve seen a considerable increase in the amount of students coming in for sessions. When we ask where they heard about us, they’ll usually say their professors referred them,” Haun said.

How can we address the problem better?

As far as what they feel could be done to improve the issue, answers ranged from creating polls, to simply being more vocal and starting a more open conversation within the campus.

“I think some sort of email survey could help so administration and the staff would know where to go from here,” said 20-year-old Jovian Schaeffer, a liberal arts major from Middle Island.

When asked about what could be improved about the school’s approach, Adams said, “I think Suffolk should let us know that this is a safe space to make anyone with any sort of mental health issue feel like they’re not alone.”

Men’s, women’s basketball advance in NJCAA playoffs

Suffolk’s men’s and women’s basketball teams both advanced to the second round of the NJCAA conference playoffs this past week.

The undefeated men’s team faced Dutchess Community College and soundly defeated them 84-50.

In the first half, Suffolk and their suffocating defense played a big role, limiting their opponent to 20 points. In the second half, they displayed their artillery, outscoring their opponent 52-30.

Tyree Grimsley was a figure with 24 points, six rebounds and three steals, Steven Tynes had 19 points, 10 assists, five rebounds and four steals. James Signer had 12 points, eight rebounds, four blocks and Jaye Bookhart had ten 10 points.

With this win, the Sharks move on to the Regional XV Semifinal where they will face Queensborough Community College this Saturday at 7:15 p.m. at Borough of Manhattan Community College.

They had two previous meetings this season, with the Sharks being victorious in both games. They averaged 91 points per game and held their opponent to 68 points.

The women’s basketball team defeated Borough of Manhattan Community College 52-37 in the first round of playoffs. They go on to play Nassau Community College for the second round of playoffs at Borough of Manhattan Community College on Saturday.