Director of counseling and support services discusses SCAD’s mental health
Written by Jordan Petteys, photos by Nick Thomsen
According to Christopher Corbett, the director of counseling and student support services, “mental health ultimately is part of everything we do.”
Corbett oversees all of the counseling services across all campuses and primarily works with the Savannah team to support mental health based and academic accommodations for students. Corbett also provides services as a licensed psychologist. He argues that academic and professional pressures within SCAD’s academic environment, time management and social atmospheres can all contribute to a student’s overall mental health.
Corbett discussed the emotional toll creative expression can take on students.
“You’re putting who you are as a person––your own experience into what you’re designing and what you’re creating while also feeding off other people and that process of creation,” Corbett said.
The classes a person takes, their time management skills, living situation, deadlines and physical health all arguably impacts their mental health. Corbett stressed the importance of nurturing physical health to support mental health, emphasizing sleep and nutrition as crucial when under stress.
Because the university attempts to replicate the professional environment with time sensitive art and design projects, Corbett believes it’s crucial to create structure within a schedule and communicate with others. Having an organized plan leaves room to support physical and mental health.
“Mental Health [happens] to everybody with varying amounts of impact. We like to think that we can control it, but we often experience that we can’t,” Corbett said.
He argued that some of the best ways students can take control of their environments is by setting up their schedule to support well being.
“Inevitably something is going to happen that we don’t plan for. If we build flexibility into what we are doing, that can sometimes serve as a little bit of a buffer in moments of high stress,” Corbett said.
After suicides on campus this year, the counseling department implemented new strategies to their practice based on feedback from students and faculty.
“When an individual dies by suicide, that’s a permanent thing. We know a lot of students feel passionate about it, and we do too as an office. It’s going to be something that students think about and that a smaller percentage of students will act on and that’s why we are here. That’s why we are on call every day all hours of the day,” Corbett said.
All services provided through SCAD’s counseling are voluntary and free. “The whole reason we exist is to support students. The more accessible we can be the better the outcome is going to be,” Corbett said.
Sessions typically take an hour or less and students must reach out to be seen. Current students can set up an appointment by calling 912.525.6971 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Although the center is primarily appointment based, first time screenings are available every weekday, Monday through Friday from 1 to 4 p.m., no appointment needed. Additionally, the department also provides 24/7 service for crisis situations. SCAD card holders can find the phone number for the on-call counselor on the back of their ID cards.
According to Corbett, suicide is the second leading cause of death for this age group. Therefore, the counseling department believes in the power of vocalizing and supporting mental health.
“It is important for us to be able to talk about it positively and helpfully, and it’s okay to say the word suicide out loud,” Corbett said.
When a student does die by suicide, the counseling department offers several resources for support. In response to the deaths on campus earlier this year, counselors were available in the office, by phone all day and in the residence halls evenings.
“I went out and talked to a number of the classes that we knew the students were in. We wanted to talk to the professors in those classes specifically because we had, we didn’t know for sure, a sense that they might be impacted a little bit more by the deaths,” Corbett said. “We are going to do everything we can when [a suicide happens] to help with healing and making sense of the grief.”
Since families sometimes choose not to disclose information regarding a loved one’s suicide, Corbett indicated this can, understandably, lead to misunderstandings and strong feelings.
“Whenever someone passes away, it’s challenging for many of us. Suicide adds another layer of difficulty [to grief] because we are all left with the why, and in almost all cases it’s not an answer we are going to get. We are also understandably angry and upset and it’s a lot easier to process something when we have a place or a person to put that on,” Corbett said. “Sometimes people are going to put that on us, but if that helps them work through it, we hope that they will reach out to us as well so we can help them.”
Recently, the Counseling Support Services initiated the SCAD Care Project, a program geared toward providing extra training for groups on campus related to suicide prevention.
“We decided that, after reviewing some feedback from students, faculty and staff on campus, the community would benefit from something more structured and formalized to help everybody feel more equipped and comfortable talking about things that many people experience to be difficult,” Corbett said.
The project intends to inform people on how to talk about suicide, be aware of the signs that someone may be suicidal and offer support to those who are struggling.
Corbett ensured that the department is actively seeking new methods for relaying accurate information about their services to students.
“We know from looking at SCAD’s information and larger information from other colleges that when a suicide happens, there are times where that person never reached out,” Corbett said.
According to Corbett, the department always welcomes feedback on how they can improve their services.
“We listen to students and faculty and make adjustments so that students experience what we intend for them to experience. Our attitudes, desires and passion haven’t changed, but we’re trying to find ways to get a little bit closer to the students where they’re at in that moment,” Corbett said.
Ultimately, Corbett hopes students know “there really is an organization that is advocating for them, wants them to succeed and wants to help.”