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SPECIAL REPORT: Mental health care on college campuses

More students are reaching out for help

UTEP Mental Health Study

EL PASO, Texas - College campuses are not only a resource for education, but in many cases it's where students gain personal growth, make lifelong friendships and prepare for life.

That chapter also brings its share of challenges that may need reinforcements like counseling.

A 2015-2016 report from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health shows the number of students seeking counseling for mental health concerns has steadily climbed between 2010 and 2016.

The University of Texas at El Paso is holding orientation sessions for freshman and other new students set to start school in the fall. Orientation includes fun activities, meet-and-greet opportunities, campus tours and a list of resources for students.

"I feel like it's going to be a good year," said Andrew Guerrero, an incoming freshman at UTEP.

Guerrero said orientation has helped him find out the important resources he'll need while studying there.

"I know I can reach out to them (UTEP) if I need help. I feel very welcome here," he said.

ABC-7 spoke with other students who also said they wouldn't hesitate to reach out for counseling at the university if they felt they needed the help.

"There's a lot going on at the college age, and so that's naturally going to cause some higher levels of stress, anxiety and more prone to things like depression," said Celeste Nevarez, a licensed counselor at Emergence Health Network.

Emergence has been providing mental health services to the Borderland for 50 years, including round-the-clock service if someone finds themselves in a crisis. In the last year, Emergence opened a new counseling services center available to patients who want to see a counselor up to twice a week.

Nevarez said the brain doesn't stop developing until the age of 26, so between the ages of 18 to 25 is when mental health disorders become more prevalent if they weren't diagnosed as children.

"We have to be able to treat those imbalances, those things that can happen during development," Nevarez said.

Many times students show up on a college campus realizing for the first time that they may have a mental health condition.

The UTEP Counseling Center reported it saw about 1,000 students last school year. The center's assistant director, Dr. Brian Sneed, said many of the students were already in crisis and in need of mental health care.     

"In the past six years we've seen the number of students double," Sneed said.

The CCMH report showed the top five mental health concerns for students are anxiety, depression, stress, family and school.

"We're seeing more students here at the counseling center. I think a lot of that has to do with combating the stigma," Sneed said.

He said because of the advancements in medication and psychotherapy there are a lot more students that normally wouldn't have had the opportunity to attend a university.

Universities like UTEP are working to meet the demand of students requesting help.

Sneed said that according to the International Association of Counseling Services, the recommended ratio of counselors to students is 1 to every 1,600 students.

At campuses with more than 20,000 students, like UTEP, there should be 1 counselor to every 2,400 students.

In reality, at UTEP it's more like 1 counselor to every close to 3,000 students, according to Sneed.

"There is a struggle, and UTEP is in that same situation."

During the most recent Texas Legislative Session, Senate Bill 1533 was passed, helping expand the reach of mental health first aid training. Emergence Health Network authored the bill.

Now college employees can sign up for free training to help them identify when students or staff are having a hard time coping with a situation or when someone is in crisis.

Emergence offers mental health first aid training for free.

"If we develop this culture of being able to talk about it, it will feel less invasive, or it will feel less stigmatized," Nevarez said.

"We don't want to wait until you're in the hospital or police are called," Nevarez said.

UTEP offers workshops and classes year-round for students and staff on mental health awareness. To receive free services at the counseling center, students just need to show their student identification.

"There's no problem too big or too small at the university counseling center," Sneed said.

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