Corps Of Cadets Embraces On-Site Mental Health Counseling
Nearly 20 years ago, colleges and universities across the country began noticing an uptick in the number of students suffering from anxiety and overwhelming stress. Texas A&M University students, especially those in the Corps of Cadets, weren’t exempt from this trend.
In an effort to ensure cadets have the resources they needed to manage the demands of Corps and college life, Commandant Brig. Gen. Joe E. Ramirez, Student Counseling Services and cadet leadership, the Texas A&M University Corps of Cadets began taking positive strides in 2018 toward effectively addressing mental health issues among its ranks.
Less than a year into the project, Corps leadership is already seeing the benefits of on-site counseling services.
“There are many stressors in a college environment, and many young people find it difficult to deal with all of them,” Ramirez said, “As we saw the increase in cadets who were having difficulty coping with adjusting to college life, being away from home for the first time in their lives, and dealing with the demands of the Corps of Cadets, we realized we needed to ensure we were doing all we could to help cadets deal with those stressors and help them succeed in a very rigorous college and Corps of Cadets environment.”
Counseling on the Quad
Ramirez said the first step was bringing in experts from Student Counseling Services to educate his staff about the issues cadets faced and why some college students were having difficulty coping with the stress, depression and anxiety. Corps staff was also trained in identifying warning signs and how to get struggling cadets the help they need.
Ramirez also requested a counselor to be available on the Quad near cadet living spaces, readily available for cadets who were having a difficult time coping with the stressors of academics, personal life, and the Corps, along with those who may be grappling with mental health issues. He pledged an office in one of the new leadership learning centers, and any other resources the counselor may require.
Bringing a counselor to the Quad would eliminate one of the largest barriers to cadets preventing them from seeking out help. The current location of the SCS is simply too far away and takes too much time for cadets to reach. Having a counselor on the Quad would reduce the number of barriers cadets encounter when seeking help, as accessibility to services can be a key factor in cadets choosing to seek help.
SCS came through and were able to provide a counselor specifically for the Corps, located on the Quad. Starting in August of 2018, student counselor Brian Kaspar has proven to be a valuable asset for cadets to talk to whenever they are feeling overwhelmed by feelings of stress, depression, or anxiety.
“It’s been a learning process for me,” Kaspar, who has also spent time counseling in the Texas State Prison Systems before coming to SCS, said. “There is a whole culture that goes along with the Corps and a certain language they use.”
Kaspar continued, “The Commandant’s office has supplied me with everything that I needed in terms of a nice, comfortable office where students can feel comfortable coming and talking about things they may not feel comfortable talking about in another setting.”
The first line of defense
Ramirez hopes to retain Kaspar on the Quad, even after the Student Counseling Services moves to the newly renovated Student Activities Center on Military Walk.
The Commandant also identified the importance individual cadets have amongst their peers. He said, “From day one, cadets learn that their “buddies” are there to help them through the tough times, and will always be there for them if they need help.”
He has also taken steps to give this “first line of defense” extra training. Key leaders and chaplains have received special education from Student Counseling Services on stress, anxiety, and depression before every new group of freshmen arrive for Freshmen Orientation Week.
Luke Thomas ‘20, the current Corps Sergeant Major and rising 2019-2020 Corps Commander echoed the Commandant’s remarks in saying, “I witnessed first-hand mental health issues within my freshman buddy class and it has really affected me in leadership decisions moving forward.”
Thomas also acknowledged that cadet leadership can’t stop seeking to proactively prevent mental health issues.
“The Corps does not intentionally create stress, but for some people who have never been challenged before, the high standards and expectations are stressful,” Thomas said. “Leadership comes in when the purpose is defined and people choose to allow that stress to become motivated and not let it wear them down.”