By: Darlene Schmitt & Jie Zhang, SUNY Brockport
An interview with Darlene Schmitt, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Associate Director of the SUNY Brockport Counseling Center which is part of the Hazen Center for Integrated Care.
Service provided: what do you do?
I am the administrative supervisor at The Counseling Center (CC) and also a mental health counselor.
The CC provides clinical counseling services including comprehensive mental health assessments, individual and group therapy, and referrals to appropriate on and off campus resources, to help students achieve their academic and personal goals. We develop and implement programs to educate the campus community about the psychological and developmental needs of students through community-level interventions, outreach programming, and consultation. When needed, we respond to the effects of crises impacting individual students and the campus community.
In my role as the Associate Director, I serve on multiple campus-based committees such as the Student Behavioral Consultant Team; the Title IX Case Management Team; chair of the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) Committee; the EMSA Assessment Team; the EMSA Goal 4 Committee; Animals on Campus Committee (review applications for emotional support animals); and the Personal Safety Committee. In addition, I am the Hazen representative on College Senate and am part of the DSI review committee for EMSA. Currently, I am an adjunct instructor for the Counselor Education Dept. and am teaching one graduate level course.
Outside of Brockport, I am actively involved in SUNY. I served on the SUNY Mental Health and Wellness Task Force and currently am working with SUNY Central on the SUNY MH Counseling Center Directors’ Task Force. I am also the past president of the SUNY Directors’ Group. In the community, I am part of the Monroe County Disaster Mental Health Team; engaged with the Upstate NY College Collaboration (UNYCC) and the Western Monroe County Child and Adolescent Behavioral and Mental Health Coalition
Any changes or trends you have experienced, especially during the pandemic?
Not sure where to even start with this question. I’ll try to summarize my thoughts and experiences. The pandemic has been a worldwide traumatic experience – quarantine, isolation, fear, illness and losses all have impacted our students (as well as faculty and staff). Learning remotely, then returning to campus has been difficult. The only bright spot I have found is that the pandemic has illuminated the importance of mental health and has helped decrease the stigma associated with asking for help.
Last semester, the CC was unable to absorb any more ongoing clients on November 1st, and had to refer many students off campus for anything that couldn’t be helped in a single session. Anxiety is pervasive and palatable. We try to “return to normal” without acknowledging the fact there will never be “normal” as we knew it pre-pandemic. We will see the effects of the pandemic for many years to come as many school aged children have suffered a major disruption in their psychosocial development.
What do you think is working well?
SUNY has launched a comprehensive campaign to address mental health and has given campuses access to some resources including hotlines and training opportunities. With the HEERF funds, we’ve been able to launch a number of initiatives to support mental health.
One I’d like to highlight is The Steve Fund which is dedicated to supporting the mental health and emotional well-being of young people of color. The Steve Fund partners with higher education institutions to holistically enhance existing mental health efforts by understanding the needs of students of color and other intersecting identities in order to ensure a positive mental health and emotional well-being. Through this partnership, SUNY Brockport has engaged in an 18 month process as part of a 12 campus cohort working towards developing and implementing the “Equity in Mental Health Framework” which will assist us in creating and sustaining a campus strategic plan that will address the needs and support the mental health, well-being, and success of students of color.
What could be done to better support you?
Our campus needs more resources in countless areas in order to meet our students where they’re at and increase the persistence and retention rates. The Counseling Center budget in Hazen is funded solely by student fees, so with the decline in enrollment, it’s taken a big hit. That said, health and wellness (physical and mental) is paramount in the persistence and retention of students. We currently have 4 FT counselors (searching for a vacant position) and year after year, we get feedback from students that they want us to have more availability. As for students, we can do a better job representing and supporting our diverse student population.
What can faculty and staff do to support?
Take advantage of the training opportunities such as QPR and Mental Health First Aid, and familiarize yourself with available SUNY and campus resources. Utilize your Counseling Center professionals for consultation and support. Don’t be afraid to talk to your students about how they are doing. Sometimes, they just need someone to listen.
What are the available services for faculty and staff?
NYS Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is available to all faculty, staff and their families.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about this important topic that impacts us all! Below are some helpful resources for faculty.
Guidance for Faculty in Identifying and Engaging with Students Who May Be in Distress
Mental Health Resources at SUNY:
SUNY Mental Health Resources Website: https://www.suny.edu/mental-health/
$24 Million in Student Mental Health and Wellness Services - The Largest Single Investment in Mental Health in SUNY History: https://www.suny.edu/suny-news/press-releases/7-21/7-23-21/mental-health-investment.html
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