Counselors struggle to meet student demand

Alicia Jackson, photo courtesy of Jackson

Florida A&M University students say they have struggled to access counseling resources in a timely manner, waiting weeks to be seen. Some are even being forced to go without receiving help.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, most mental health cases develop in an individual’s early 20s, beginning in their college years.

“College is a time during which many mental illnesses first appear. Coping with an untreated mental illness can affect a student’s social experience and academic performance. And for students of color, there’s often more under the surface working against them,” according to the NAMI website.

Second-year FAMU pre-nursing student Jeanine Tuffet said not being able to receive professional counseling has impacted her first-hand, adding to her feelings of loneliness.

“I feel like I am doing life alone; I don’t have the best relationship with my family so having that professional help is important for me to better understand how to cope with anxiety and emotions,” Tuffet said. “Especially because it is included in my tuition, I expect to have that person to lean back on. For my appointment to be scheduled in October and not be made available until November was upsetting because so much can and has already happened before then.”

Tuffet is not the only student dealing with the same issue and frustration of not being able to access the mental health services on campus.

Kennedi Chadwrick, a sophomore psychology major, said she was forced to depend on herself during a time of need.

Kennedi Chadwrick, photo courtesy of Chadwrick

“When I called to make my appointment, they suggested that I booked in advance at the beginning of the semester as if I were to know all I would go through,” Chadwick said. “When I reached out I was going through something, and needed someone to talk to, and I just couldn’t. I was in a funk for a while, but eventually had to pull myself out of it.”

With many students facing similar frustrations with FAMU counseling services, few of them know how hard the trained staff are working in order to meet each individual’s needs.

Rasheedat McKay, a Florida A&M alumna and an administrative assistant at FAMU Counseling Services, said she empathizes with the students because she was once in their position. She said she wants to affirm that each student’s mental stability is always at the forefront of the staff’s minds.

“I am a 2015 Florida A&M graduate and former Student Government Association member so a lot of times I try to meet in the middle and advocate for the students because I am compelled to them,” McKay said. “Making counseling available to students is our No. 1 priority; we are here for them and empathize with everything they have going on. We just ask for students to exercise patience, grace and understanding considering our relatively small staff in comparison to the large student body.”

The counseling center does a lot of leg work behind the scenes to ensure that all students receive optimal care.

Alicia Jackson, an alumna and counselor, said she and her team try to provide other resources students can take advantage of while they are waiting on their appointments.

“One of the main things that we try to do is strategize how we can use the resources that we have to provide the best care,” Jackson said. “For example, we offer groups, which can service more than one student at a time, and we are currently attempting to hire more staff. We are also taking advantage of professional training and development to learn better ways to serve our students. We provide outreach services to provide presentations on mental health, participate in panels provide other ways of creating a space to educate others about mental health and get answers to the questions they may have.”

Jackson added that the staff must be intentional about taking care of themselves so they can best take care of their students.

“We are also really working on our self-care as well,” Jackson said. “The later is important because we too must be well in order to provide optimal care and service to our students.”

For any student seeking alternative help, FAMU provides two additional services for students to assist them. WellTrack, a self-help app that you can download for free, and WellConnect (888) 833-1765, which is an after-hours call service where a licensed therapist will assist you.