Considering the stressors associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is not surprising that demand for college counseling services nationwide has continued to grow. While the number of students seeking counseling services steadily increased over the years prior to the pandemic, according to a survey conducted in the fall of 2020 by the Hi, How Are You Project and the American Campus Communities, 85 percent of students surveyed showed they are somewhat or considerably more stressed now in comparison to previous years. In the same survey, 66 percent of students said COVID-19 has forced them to take a closer look at their mental health.
These statistics are similar to what the TCC Northwest Advising and Counseling Center is reporting. According to Assistant Director Anna Hinman, their center saw 96 students during the Aug. 1, 2019–Jan. 31, 2020 (pre-COVID) period. The same timeframe two years later showed a 54 percent increase in students seeking counseling with the highest jump in crisis counseling (45 students as opposed to eight students two years earlier).
Hinman says issues they are seeing in students include stress, anxiety and lack of motivation. She attributes the increase in numbers not only to COVID but also “a generation of students that are not hindered by stigmas surrounding seeking help for mental health issues.”
The increase in students seeking counseling support is not limited to TCC Northwest. “We are seeing a lot of trauma-related issues—some related to COVID and some not,” said Masika Smith, counselor at TCC Northeast. “We are helping students through the grieving process after dealing with death more than in the past, whether death is from COVID or not.” Additionally, Smith says says her campus’s counselors are seeing much higher numbers of students with anxiety. “They have been traumatized because of COVID [and have] fears of getting sick again or being in lockdown again.” She gave an example of a student who is now afraid to leave home and no longer drives. “This student was unable to enroll this semester because the online classes were full, and they are not able to leave their home due to their anxiety.”
Steve Howard, who also provides counseling at TCC Northeast, says he is “seeing at least one student a week who is dealing with dysfunctional coping—self-medicating with alcohol, drugs and/or polyamorous sexual relationships.” Additionally, he has weekly conversations with students who are having suicidal thoughts and wondering if that is normal. “They are alarmed by their thoughts and wanting to talk about it,” he said. “This was not a weekly occurrence prior to the pandemic.” Caregiving is another issue. “We are seeing an increase in the number of young students who are caring for a parent or sibling and are having to take fewer classes at a time because they have to work and care for that family member. They are tired.”
Smith believes counseling is integral to student success. “In the classroom, our faculty members recognize when there is a change in student behavior, and we are very fortunate to have them walk students to us, to email the student and copy us as a way of making an introduction or completing a CARE Team referral to make sure someone is reaching out to the student. Here at TCC Northeast we have a great relationship with our faculty working hand-in-hand for student success.”
Functions of CARE Teams include consultation, assessment, resources and education. A dedicated group of faculty and staff provide consultations and support for students in distress. The teams, each made up of a cross section of the campus community, meet weekly to discuss referrals from concerned faculty, staff and students. Their goal is to help students find support from appropriate sources and, ultimately, provide them the tools achieve their educational goals.
“Our CARE Teams are much more than a behavior intervention team, as we not only assess each referral for risk, but also discuss available campus and community resources,” said Belinda Lopez, director of student conduct and prevention education at TCC South. “Each CARE Team has members from departments at every campus, allowing us to provide comprehensive assessments and resources to mitigate the different barriers our students experience, and bringing them closer to reaching their educational goals.”
“TCC CARE Teams play a vital role in meeting the needs of our students in a particular moment,” said Leon Minor, director of student conduct and prevention education at TCC Northwest, “but also provide assistance and resources that promote continued growth and development.”
CARE Teams across the District received 486 referrals during the fall semester of 2021. Ronda Isaacs, interim director of counseling and advising at TCC Northeast, says their CARE Team referrals increased by 10 percent in the fall of 2021. Even with a decrease in enrollment, counselors stay busy. “The counseling team here at Northeast stays booked with counseling appointments whereas in the past, they had the ability to also assist with advising appointments,” Isaacs said.
“We offer amazing workshops, (but) students don’t typically attend. They are over Zoom, Teams and workshops,” said Smith. “They crave the personalized interaction.”
An individualized approach is essential to counseling success, according to Lidia Narvaez, who serves as a veterans counselor at TCC Northeast. “As counselors, we all take a holistic approach as to how best to serve each student. We try to look at every aspect: physical, mental and spiritual.” She considers this particularly important with veteran students because some of them have had “experiences they may not have processed yet, and the loss of certainty and continuous stress have brought some of these back to the forefront of their mind.”
According to Howard, “The complexity of the situations (with which students are dealing) has greatly increased and require more visits. The number of students we have seen has increased. The number of counselors serving our students has not.”
Still, TCC counselors are willing to do whatever it takes to ensure students have the support they need. “We know how to get you connected to resources that can,” said Hinman.
“Don’t give up on counseling,” added Narvaez. “If you didn’t click with the counselor, ask for another counselor. We have to make sure people know how to advocate for themselves.” She says to keep trying until you find a counselor with whom you are comfortable, then get the help you need.
“Like everyone, college students face difficult life transitions and circumstances, experience painful emotions and need assistance in developing clear and meaningful goals,” said Deidra Turner, director of counseling at TCC Trinity River. “Taking time to meet with a counselor to process these issues should be seen in the same light as exercising and eating healthy meals because it is just as beneficial.”
Visit the counseling services offered by TCC for more information.