ECC Wellness Center continues to serve students

Maya Liquigan, Managing Editor

As the semester winds down to the final stretch, the struggles of Elgin Community College students do not go unnoticed. The Wellness Center at ECC offers multiple different services for those who are looking for help including phone sessions, support groups, or one-on-one counseling with one of the Wellness Professionals. For those who are struggling, stressed, or need a helping hand. ECC’s Wellness Center is only a call or emails away.

Mental Health Awareness Month, celebrated in May, is a chance to acknowledge the struggles of managing one’s mental health. A study conducted by the American Psychological Association, explains how 80% of college presidents agree that students’ mental health has become a greater priority in the past three years. Another article by the APA surveyed the leading concerns of college students. The results showed that anxiety was the top presenting concern (41.6 percent), with depression coming in as the second-highest concern (36.4 percent). ECC wellness professionals see students weekly and see first-hand the struggles that college students endure. 

“Last month, in April, a total of 132 students came in to see us,” said one of ECC’s Wellness Professionals, Coresair Mack. “One of the main reasons students come in to see us is for Depression and Anxiety. Though students come in for a variety of mental health, substance use, and wellness reasons.” 

Mack has been one of the three wellness professionals at ECC since January of 2020. He was first majoring in engineering but took an interest in psychology. He explained how he was inspired by how people-focused counseling was and wanted to help people when they were at their lowest. Mack’s weekly schedule is dedicated to connecting with students as much as possible. 

“My schedule varies a lot,” Mack said. “The main four things I do are seeing students, doing programs, attending meetings and events, and connecting students to different resources. There are times when I will have four or five students on my schedule. There are times when my day is filled with meetings and days where my schedule is filled with all four.”

The Wellness Center offers individual sessions, group therapy, and community support. When Mack meets with students, his main counseling method is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), but he adapts to a style that best fits the student. Mack approaches students in many different ways but explained the importance of building a relationship with them. 

He explains how students typically will not be comfortable talking about their experiences if they are not comfortable, so building rapport is an important factor when first meeting with a student. 

“Giving the students the space to share is important as well,” Mack said. “You will have some students who will come in and just start telling you about everything and anything due to holding that in for so long.”

Mack emits a comfortable atmosphere, speaking to students in a soft and friendly voice. He greets anyone with a smile and makes sure to give them space to talk. The safe space that Mack creates allows for students to share very intense experiences such as suicidal thoughts and attempts and sexual assault and abuse. He said that these truths that are shared with him are the ones that stand out the most. 

For as much as he helps his students, he also learns from them. Mack shared that one of the biggest lessons he learned from counseling is to never make assumptions. 

“I would say one that is definitely reinforced is to not make assumptions,” Mack said. “Just because of what people look like, what their status is, etc… That doesn’t mean that they aren’t going through stuff.” 

Mack advises that anyone who is struggling with their mental health should speak with a professional. He explains that the sooner you get help, the better and a lot of therapists offer a free 15-minute consultation to see if they are a good fit for you. He also mentions that the Wellness Center at ECC is a free and confidential service. It is a place where ECC students can come to talk about their mental health and any wellness needs. Mack helps students who struggle at any level, even those who may seem hopeless. 

“I always say ‘let’s take the Less out of Hopeless to leave Hope,” Mack said. “Everyone is reacting to something. Giving them the space to explore and find out what they are reacting to helps students put things into perspective.”

He continues to stay motivated in his profession, which can be hard due to the exposure to experiences that are typically negative. 

“Knowing that I’m helping people [motivates him],” Mack said. “Even if people say they didn’t get anything out of it, they had the space to let things out to help them feel at least a little bit better.” 

One of the newest Wellness Professionals at ECC is Jasmine Young. Although Young has only been at ECC for only nine months, she shared that she has met with a large number of students. Young has already left her mark at ECC and loves creating a connection with students. She values being able to give students a voice, which is why she became a wellness professional. 

“As a black girl growing up on the South Side of Chicago, I did not see a lot of representation within fields that helped people outside of being a nurse or doctor,” Young said. “I knew I didn’t want to be one of those. I found therapy as a way to not only help people but most importantly help individuals find their own voices so they can become an advocate for themselves.”

Like Mack, Young has a busy schedule that is filled with meeting students and attending meetings. She meets with students both in-person and online, but also serves on committees and provides wellness presentations throughout the semester. Her days are dedicated to showing the importance of mental health and being someone that students can share their struggles with. According to Young, the Wellness Center is constantly busy with students.

“Within the last year, our numbers have tripled,” Young said. “Which we are beyond happy because that means students see the value in their mental health as well.” 

She also expands on Mack’s statement on the reasons that students visit the Wellness Center. She explains how they work with students who struggled with Depression, Anxiety, Grief, and adjustment to the college environment. All of these aspects of mental health can be extremely stressful, but the Wellness Center offers a safe space for students. 

“We mostly work with our students by offering talk therapy and group therapy,” Young said. “I will tell you that when I work with a student, I like to explain that they are the expert in the room regarding their life. I am here as a passenger that helps them find the tools that better support them in making the changes that they want in their life.” 

Young notes that is important to be yourself when first meeting with a student. She said that your most authentic self can allow for a therapeutic relationship and rapport to develop organically. She creates a comfortable relationship with her students, always speaking in a voice that comes off as soft and friendly. When Young interacts with students, she makes sure that they feel comfortable and that they are allowed to be themselves. 

She explained that her motivation is derived from her student’s dedication to their growth and change. 

“Seeing them wanting to be better makes me want to be the person to help them be better,” Young said. “Even with the world crumbling around you, there is still hope. I have had the privilege of watching out students overcome some pretty serious struggle while maintaining their status as a student and completing the semester successfully.” 

As Young said, they are the people to come talk to when you don’t feel like you. A lot of students can relate to that feeling. Desiree Oliveros, a staff writer for The Observer, has been going to the Wellness Center since last spring. 

“During COVID, I noticed I developed very unhealthy eating habits that were starting to take a toll on me mentally and physically,” Oliveros said. “For so long, I never thought I had an eating disorder and just assumed the way I ate was normal. Once I reached my breaking point where I constantly felt weak and food was the only thing on my mind, I knew it was time to get help.”

Oliveros had met with a previous wellness professional but then began meeting with Young. She explained that one of the wellness professionals had a zoom call during one of her classes, which is where she heard about the counseling. The concept of signup was simple, she signed up through AccessECC, and selected who she wanted to meet with and when. Signing up may have been easy, but the first session was a bit nerve-racking for Oliveros. 

“The first time I went to see Prem [her previous counselor], I’ll admit I was extremely nervous,” Oliveros said. “There was always a stigma about mental health in my family. I was taught that others have it worse and told ‘you’re not depressed, you are just said.’ I was extremely hesitant to even walk through the door. However, Prem was instantly so welcoming.”

She said that the counselors never pushed her to speak and would always let her share at her own pace. This experience made Oliveros feel like she had a voice like she was heard. The first session was successful enough for her to continue to meet every week. Her sessions with Young revealed a lot about herself that she had never had a chance to talk about before. 

“While each session was different, Jasmine did point out one consistency with my sessions,” Oliveros said. “I would always start with surface-level issues or always think that my biggest issue was my eating habits, but as the session progressed, I would always go into deeper topics. There were a lot of traumas I had that I had no clue were there until talking it out. I won’t lie, I did cry basically every session, but it was refreshing to let out all my emotions.”

Oliveros was able to see the value in her mental health and dig deep into herself to find her voice. Although it was hard to take the first step, the help that she received was worth it all. 

“While I admit that my eating habits are still not the best, and I still deal with depression and anxiety, I developed amazing coping skills through my sessions,” Oliveros said. “Mental health, no matter what, will be a work in progress. And while I have a lot to still work on, The Wellness Center was a huge help.”

As she knows how it is like to struggle with mental health, Oliveros wants to share advice with those who may be considering help.

“You are not alone,” Oliveros said. “If you dealt with a negative stigma over mental health due to family or peers just like me, I promise you that your feelings are valid. Mental health is just as important as physical and emotional health, so if you are struggling, I urge you to reach for help. There are tons of free resources to get you started.”

Mental Health Awareness Month at ECC means sharing thoughts about happiness and advice for those who are struggling with their mental health. The Observer held a Mental Health Awareness Panel on April 26, giving students the chance to share their stories. 

“Just talking to someone, it actually helps,” said ECC student Ashley Labinpuno, who was part of the panel. “I thought that I would be able to get over it myself, but actually talking to someone helps.”

If you are struggling with anxiety, depression, and feelings of loneliness, remember that you are not alone. Contact the Wellness Center by calling 847-214-7390 or emailing at [email protected].