09:29 AM

Counseling, Engagement, and Outreach: Putting Students’ Mental Health First


By Marie Jacinto

Josh’s Bench

UHD’s Student Counseling Services is dedicating a bench for suicide-prevention awareness this Thursday, April 6, and the entire Campus Community is invited to the ceremony. Read on to discover how UHD approaches the well-being of its student body.

Naomi Berger-Perez, UHD Director of Counseling Services, wants students to know two things: “We care about your mental health and well-being, and we are here to help with on-site and virtual counseling.”

Naomi-BPerez, a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, joined the University in September 2022 to oversee UHD’s Counseling Services, which has grown to six counselors (including Perez), three master’s-level interns, two UHD Social Work interns, and two student workers. “Our full-time staff are all licensed, and all information is kept confidential. Ethics and professionalism are extremely important,” said Perez. “Our three interns are earning their Master of Clinical Mental Health Counseling from the University of St. Thomas, and our bachelor’s-level interns are studying Social Work at UHD. These wonderful students are helping us build the program, which we hope continues to grow.”

In the past, UHD contracted with UTHealth and offered students five counseling sessions. Now that in-house counseling is provided, all Gator students (including those enrolled at UHD Northwest) may schedule recurring one-hour sessions at the One Main Building in-person or virtually. Student fees help pay for the service. 

“The most common issues that we see are concerns over relationships—with dating partners, family, and/or peers—and dealing with anxiety,” said Perez. “We support students through relationship problems by helping them identify their strengths and empowering them to advocate for themselves. Relationships can improve with self-awareness, and healthy communication improves self-efficacy.” 

Anxiety has been another frequent concern. “We have seen an uptick since the pandemic. For students struggling with anxiety, we help monitor them and advocate self-care because anxiety can quickly spiral into depression if not treated,” noted Perez.

UHD’s counseling team is taking their concern for students’ well-being beyond the walls of the clinic, however, in multiple ways. Their Mental Health First Aid Workshops on the last Friday of the month train faculty and staff how to triage cases and to know when to escalate care to a higher level by understanding distress versus crisis. These workshops are growing in popularity and increasing in capacity!

The team is also out and about across the campus to increase visibility for the program and to engage students in their mental health care. In fact, this Thursday, April 6, at 2 p.m. on the outdoor patio of the College of Science and Technology building, UHD Counseling Services will have a brief ceremony to dedicate a bench for suicide prevention awareness, which was donated by the nonprofit Josh’s Benches for Awareness.

“The entire Counseling Services team will be on-hand to talk about resources, and how we, as a community, can support one another and get the help we need to continue to balance work, study, and home life for healthy, fulfilling lives,” concludes Berger-Perez.The team is also out and about across campus to increase visibility for the program and to engage students in their mental health care, including the ceremony to dedicate the suicide-prevention awareness bench.