decorative image of mental-health , Pirates CARE team looks out for students’ mental health 2020-08-26 09:36:03 Published: 08-26-2020

Troy Moon, Pensacola State College

College is supposed to be hard. It’s supposed to present challenges. But college is not supposed to be debilitating. But for some students, it feels that way.

Sometimes the problems the students face don’t even stem from school. But sometimes those dilemmas are so overwhelming they threaten to affect the students’ performance in classes.

That’s why Pensacola State College has a team dedicated to helping ensure the emotional and mental well-being of students who are facing unprecedented challenges. Part of the Pirates CARE Team, these professional staffers offer mental health counseling and other resources to help students deal with conditions and situations that might affect their academic performance and overall well-being.

And they have a sweet, furry, friendly doggie named “Milly” on the team, which almost always gets a smile out of a visiting student.

“Milly works with students who come in for counseling appointments,” said Brittney Clark, PSC’s Coordinator of Mental Health Services and Milly’s handler. (Milly is a sweet Labrador/Golden Retriever mix.)

“She can be used to help with anxiety, PTSD, and she’s great with crisis students who might come in and aren’t responsive or don’t make eye contact. She helps break the ice so they might open up a bit more.”

Clark and Milly are just parts of a team dedicated to students’ well-being, said Lynsey Listau, Executive Director of Institutional Equity and Student Conduct.

“Over the past few years, our office has expanded to include mental health and wellness services for students,” Listau said. “We want to help students with not only on-campus services, but regional resources as well. Some of our students come to school with various issues and baggage and we try to help guide them through their issues and concerns.”

Listau said some of the issues that students face include financial shortfalls, potential and actual homelessness, food insecurity and various traumas. During the 2019-2020 academic year, 332 students were referred to the Pirates CARE team for assistance, including counseling, a 39 percent increase from the previous year. Students can self-refer or another student or an instructor can refer a student if the instructor senses that the student is struggling and needing assistance.

While some of the students referred reported multiple issues that were affecting them, the most common issue the team dealt with was academic stress.
There were 155 students who reported academic stress as a negative factor. Other areas of concern were family stress (75 students), depression (69 students), financial concerns (68 students), heightened emotional distress (55 students) and anxiety (50 students). Other referring factors include bizarre behavior (26 students), medical issues (33 students), housing insecurity (26 students) and disengaged student (33 students).

“Lately, I’m seeing a lot of students with financial needs and concerns,” said Jessica Johnson, a Pirates CARE Wellness Case Manager. “They have rent concerns and are even dealing with potential homelessness. A lot of students have lost jobs because of COVID-19 and they’re dealing with these financial issues while trying to stay in school.”

Johnson tries to find resources and help for students dealing with such issues. If a student is having mental health issues and needs counseling, they are referred to Clark, Listau said.

“Our goal is retention,” Clark said. “We want the students to be successful. But with COVID-19, there is a lot of stress. Some of it is family stress, and some is financial stress or academic stress. We see domestic violence issues, psychiatric issues, bipolar cases, schizophrenia. Being a community college, we have quite a range of people. Including veterans, some of whom are suffering from PTSD.”

The Pirates CARE team includes members dedicated to helping veterans with issues, Listau said.

“We have a group,” she said. “And it allows us to step in and respond quickly when someone has an issue. We’re here to help the students.”

For more information, including Student Referral forms, go to www.pensacolastate.edu/piratescare/#PSC-Pirates-Care-Refer-A-Student-Of-Concern.

PHOTO: Left to right, Lynsey Listau, Jessica Johnson, Brittney Clark and Milly. Photo by Troy Moon