AC’s Counseling Center – Safe space for students to seek help

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AC’s Counseling Center stands as a light of support for students navigating the challenges of academic and personal life. Tucked away from the bustling halls, the center quietly offers countless amounts of resources and a compassionate ear to students in need. It is a sanctuary where students can find comfort, advice and an approach to mental wellness among the stresses of college life. 

In a campus culture where the spotlight often shines on academic achievements and extracurricular activities, the counseling center serves as a vital yet overlooked resource, embodying the college’s commitment to student success in every aspect of their lives.

AC’s Counseling Center Coordinator, Jerrod Hinders, along with a team of counselors, specialists and a rotating group of interns, work together to provide a wide-range of services at the student service center from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for in-person visits. “We provide mental health resources to all Amarillo College students and we have several different ways to meet students where they are at, to make sure that their needs are being met,” Hinders said. 

“Primarily we work with connecting with students and doing assessments, providing referrals to Amarillo College and local resources and providing individual and group counseling.”

In the spring of 2023, AC launched the “Healthy Minds” study, a collaborative effort with the esteemed University of Michigan’s Healthy Minds network, renowned for its research into the mental health needs among college students. Supported by a grant, Amarillo College hoped to better understand the mental health needs prevailing on campus. Through a randomized evidence-based assessment distributed via mass email, approximately 500 students answered. 

The findings unveiled the reality among AC students: 48% grapple with moderate to severe anxiety, while 35% battle with depression of similar intensity; 14% admitted to contemplating suicide within the past year, with a significant portion proceeding to formulate plans or even make attempts. 

Isolation affects 67% of students, with a staggering 78% acknowledging the direct impact of mental health struggles on their academic performance. 

Approximately 16% of students resorted to substance use in the past month as a coping mechanism. According to the survey, accessing mental health care remains a tough challenge, with 47% citing cost as a barrier, followed by time constraints, limited availability in their vicinity and stigma-relating concerns, each affecting significant proportions of the student body. 

As a way to combat this crisis, the AC Counseling Center hopes to shine light on the various resources available that work to best accommodate students based on their personal needs and without the burden of financial constraints, scheduling conflicts or societal stigma.

“We always just want to know if we can reach out and give a helping hand,” Hinders said. “Sometimes there’s a barrier for students getting access to care and that can be intimidating. Sometimes having someone come to you can be real helpful.”

Hinders highlighted the Panhandle Partnership Wellness Clinic. This project, focusing on mental health services, is set to run until the end of the semester through the evenings and weekends. With Frank Phillips College, Clarendon College, West Texas A&M and Amarillo College on board, this resource intends to offer students any in-person or online assistance they might be seeking if confronted with conflicts in the daytime.

For students looking for resources that assist in the economic challenges that may arise, TimelyCare, a virtual platform for all academic students, provides free medical and mental health care 24/7, 365 days a year. Although only 25% students are registered for it, this service not only benefits the students but also their dependents. Furthermore, the platform allows one to pick their own provider based on certain qualifications or specialties in order to feel comfortable with their care.

Additionally, AC has some lesser-known resources. They have a partnership with Heal the City in order to help students get access to psychiatric medicine. Both the clinic and the medicine is free and for students who do not have insurance, the clinic is a valuable tool, according to Hinders. Also, the Cenikor recovery peer group that works to help those struggling with substance abuse, whether that be in the past or the present, is also partnered with Amarillo College. They meet every Wednesday from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the student services center on the Washington Street Campus.

Araselli “Shelly” Reyes, a mass media major, often utilizes the counseling services to vent in a safe space that allows her the security of her thoughts. After suffering from a traumatic brain injury and childhood trauma, she often “feels all over the place with her emotions” and coping strategies. However, at the counseling center, with her being assigned to one counselor and the majority of the counselors being younger, she feels she is better able to better hear viewpoints and suggestions.

“Here at AC, I am a whole different person, not only just through the counseling center, but the whole Mass Media Program and everywhere in general,” Reyes said. 

“For me, AC is my safe place. I’m not crazy here. I am a professional here. I feel professional here. When I go outside of here, people are familiar with me. It’s good to know that I am here and I’m getting counseling because it’s shaping me into someone completely different. I used to be angry and adolescent. I feel a lot happier and grateful for the AC counseling resource.”

Reyes said that any person, despite whether they do have or are struggling with any mental health challenge, should go to counseling. Emotional intelligence, she says, can go a long way with learning how to feel for people, avoid being judgy and opening one’s selfless traits.

“Amarillo College counseling helps me in my present days,” Reyes said. “We are not really talking about my past or my future, we are talking about my weekly goals or situations I am currently in. So it really helps me get my tasks done; it pushes me because I have a lot of doubts so it helps me say ‘yeah I can do it.’”

According to Hinders, many mental health issues are seen but neither the affected individual nor others around them ever speak up. The individual with the challenges consequently gets the impression that no one cares about them. 

Many individuals are frequently scared to speak up, but it takes bravery and courage to show others that you are interested in what is going on, that you want to know how you can help and that you are curious. 

“We all live with various challenges, all with very unique experiences and they are not challenges or experiences that we have to live with in the dark,” Hinders said. “For a long time, someone that lives with a mental health challenge is treated with a lot of stigma and this idea that you should not be feeling this, or you should not be doing that but in reality, a lot of these challenges are illnesses.”

In order to show individuals that you care, he encourages people to follow up and check in on them. “It’s important to have an open mind because we might not understand what someone is going through and that does not mean that it is not real or valid to them. We want to appreciate when someone is sharing with us because it’s a hard step to ask for help.”

Hinders said all faculty, staff and students should undergo mental health first aid training or any other form of mental health intervention training. 

These evidence-based programs equip individuals with the skills to identify mental health issues and respond to them effectively. Such training opportunities are available at Amarillo College, ensuring that members of the college community are equipped to address mental health challenges competently.

“When we talk about it out loud it doesn’t spread,” Alyssa Duncan, AC behavioral counselor, said. “People have this idea that if you’re depressed and you talk about your depression out loud you are spreading it. But all we’re doing is bringing it out to the light. Things get worse when we are silent about it. And we want any help getting better. Connection, community and communications is what helps that. The hard part about that, is that when we are struggling with our mental health in our brain, the first thing that starts to go is that connection and communication.”

Ducan said that many of her clients have told her in the past that they “didn’t know we could do some of the things that we could do, they didn’t know we could do trauma therapy, they didn’t know we could do things like that because when you think college counseling center, you don’t think intensive trauma therapy.” 

The AC Counseling Center offers many unique evidence-based methods of counseling ranging from trauma therapy to eye movement desensitization reprocessing counseling. 

“I go there because it’s lovely how kind, compassionate, and understanding they are,” Alejandra Garcia, a graphic design major, said. “I’ve been to multiple therapists, and I’ve felt the most welcome and can definitely see more improvement than at other counseling centers.”

Suffering often happens in silence, but the AC Counseling Center recognizes that no one should have to go through these challenges alone. 

Duncan said that it is important to begin the steps forward in destigmatizing mental health and work toward educating the general public about the changes they can make to assist the Badger community.

“Through therapy, watching them grow and change, and access a life they couldn’t even dream about, is so beautiful,” Ducan said. 

“I primarily believe that everything can be restored and repaired, so watching people have that in their lives is so cool. I feel honored to be a part of this process with people and watch things happen in this room that can’t happen anywhere else.”

The Active Minds group, a peer support initiative set to begin in the upcoming fall semester, is actively seeking recruits. This group, which is being supported by the AC Counseling Center, offers a platform for students to connect with peers, combat stigma surrounding mental health, offer resource education and champion mental health advocacy within the community.

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