Piercing the Veil of Mental Health

Many students face mental health challenges.
Pierce College is providing students a way to find support and hope.

Mental health is layered beneath misconceptions. There is far more research needed before the depths of its effects are understood. Nearly one in three freshman reported mental health problems in 2017. The academic ramifications of such fatigue is shown to lead to roughly a 0.2 to 0.3 GPA reduction. Depleted mental health does not stop at a student’s lowered GPA, as poor mental health has been found to be a precursor to suicidal thoughts and behavior. For many students, mental health challenges are often kept in the shadows; embarrassment or lack of support may keep them quiet. 
Jennifer Wright is Pierce College Puyallup’s resident expert on mental health. Pierce Faculty Counselor Wright is working to reverse the narrative that often accompanies issues involving mental health. Wright, the sole licensed mental health provider for the Puyallup campus since 2015, believes professors play a pivotal role in normalizing counseling for students. Acknowledging that student stress is real and steering students toward resources can help in that process.
“It doesn’t mean that you’re crazy or broken. It means that you’re dealing with a challenge right now,” says Wright. Her preferred method of helping students through those challenges is by simply engaging them in conversation. 
Sometimes Wright offers recommendations for specific resources, such as transportation or housing services. Instead of simply handing a student a phone number, she will set up an appointment for the student and advise exactly what to expect.
Counselors also provide a multitude of strategies and techniques for students dealing with issues ranging from test-taking anxiety to communication struggles. But the priority always lies with those students considered to be in crisis.
Wright is one of only two Faculty Counselors on staff; she and her Ft. Steilacoom counterpart divide their time between the two main campuses, as well as JBLM. 
LMHCs in Washington state provide what is called “talk therapy.” To attain licensure, 3,000 hours of supervised experience is required, which takes two to three years after graduation from an accredited program. A proctored exam is administered thereafter.
The primary difficulties Wright sees college students experiencing are the twin emotions of anxiety and depression, which she says tend go hand in hand. She points out that such emotions don’t discriminate – they can affect any student, at any time and for any reason.
While LMHCs can legally diagnose, Faculty Counselors don’t view that as part of their role. Instead, they ask open-ended questions to determine what a student needs, whether that be short-term case management or long-term counseling.
As a result, appointment requests are triaged, which means many students wishing to speak with a counselor are not accommodated. Wright says those days are the most challenging for her. 
“I don’t have enough time in the day to get them in as quickly as I’d like,” she says. Typically there is a two-to-three week waiting list to see counselors, which includes crisis cases.
While not fully understanding why it’s structured the way it is, Wright does think administration sees the need for more counselors. In the meantime, they work closely with faculty advisers to ensure that student’s needs are met in a timely manner.
Wright enjoys engaging with the variety of students attending Pierce. Before, she says, she was always searching for the next thing. Now, “I feel like I have arrived. I’m doing exactly what I wanted to do.”
Wright hopes that more students will become aware that she is on campus. Faculty Counseling services, which are offered free to students, should become more frequently utilized.    
Beyond her personal desire to remove the stigma often associated with mental health counseling,
Wright wants students to know that strong emotions don’t have to feel overwhelming. Counseling can provide the tools needed to feel empowered

The Puyallup Post is the award-winning news media of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2018. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube @thepuyalluppost

Dawn Hammer

Piercing the Veil of Mental Health

by Dawn Hammer time to read: 3 min