Students with Mental Health Issues Often Look to Faculty and Staff First for Assistance

With the academic and personal stress students often face, OCC faculty and staff need to be prepared to recognize potential issues and use front line approaches to guide students to the resources they may need to be successful.

But it may be difficult to identify a student in crisis and know how to help without first understanding what can trigger certain behaviors.

Mental Health AwarenessOCC’s Mental Health Task Force (MHTF) recently launched a new series of presentations designed to promote awareness of mental health issues affecting OCC students and employees. A collaborative effort between OCC’s Human Resources and Student Services kicked off the series at the Orchard Ridge campus.

“OCC’s Mental Health Task Force was formed in 2015 to address the noted uptake in students struggling with mental health issues,” said Lori Przymusinski, vice chancellor for student services. “A grant to address student mental health and suicide prevention on college campuses was acquired in 2016 for OCC to join the JED Campus. A student climate survey was then deployed in Winter 2018. Some of the survey findings, among others, recommended the need to provide our staff with education to recognize and assist students in crisis.”

“Mental Health Overview,” presented by Manachem Hojda, an OCC alumnus and licensed master social worker with the Oakland Community Health Network, provided insight and perspective on this growing issue. Hojda focused on understanding some of the signs and symptoms people may exhibit with mental health issues and information on resources available to them. He spoke to a group of 60 employees representing multi campus system and district office.

Hojda shared information about the types of childhood trauma that can lead to a student’s inability to handle the expectations and stress of K-12 and college. He explained that ‘trauma’ can include both personal and family traumas such as physical and verbal abuse, divorce, a parent with addiction issues and losing a parent at an early age. He wove his own experience as a student facing personal family crisis into the discussion and his inability to be successful in high school. He then found his academic groove at OCC and credits faculty and staff who were willing to help him succeed.

According to Hojda, these types of situations are, unfortunately, all too common and recognizing students who may need assistance is vital.

“People are surprised at the burdens that many of our students carry,” said Kirstine Evans, chair of the Highland Lakes counseling office. “For example, 40 percent of our students have food insufficiencies, and many are also carrying other financial burdens as well.”

Evans said that many students assume counselors can only help with educational concerns but, in fact, they also help students with personal issues.

“All of our counselors are licensed by the State of Michigan and regularly meet with students who are in crisis due to personal or mental health issues,” she said. “Unfortunately, mental health illness often goes undiagnosed until someone is in their 20s, so many students need counseling help.”

Depending on the level of crisis, Evans said OCC counselors can help students by making referrals for them with outside resources to ensure they get the right kind of support.

She recommends that if a faculty or staff member recognizes a student is in crisis, they should walk that student directly to the campus counseling office to get the help they need rather than just suggesting they visit counseling.

“Without that personal contact we run the risk of a student not following up on the resources they desperately need.”

For students who do take advantage of OCC counselors, they often credit them for making a difference in their lives and in their academic success.

“I was the victim of trauma when I was younger along with other mental health issues. I wasn’t a good student in high school,” said OCC student Janell Antilla. “And, no one in my family thought I would be able to succeed in college.”

But today she is a 25-year old, first year student at OCC with plans to major in recreational therapy.

“I have gotten a lot of support at OCC, especially from my counselor,” she said. “It took me a while but I am doing well in college now and am excited about going into something where I can help people. My OCC counselor has been so helpful preparing me to be successful in the classroom.”

Upcoming training, events and resources

The Mental Health Task Force, led by Jahquan Hawkins, dean of student services at Auburn Hills, includes administrators, faculty and public safety. The next Lunch and Learn will be “Human Trafficking” on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019 at the Southfield Campus. To register for this free event, visit

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the OCC Orchard Ridge Committee for Diversity and Inclusion is sponsoring a presentation, “In Our Own Voice” on Thursday, Nov. 14 at the Orchard Ridge Campus. This presentation is designed to unmask mental illness using speaker stories to illustrate the individual realities of living with mental illness, and will be held from 11:30 a.m.—1 p.m. in Room J-303. For more information, contact Rasheedah Wright at (248) 522-3461.

For more information on OCC’s counseling services for students, visit the department web page at

For more information about OCC’s Employee Assistance program contact Human Resources at (248) 341-2022.


About OCC

With multi campus system in Oakland County, OCC is Michigan’s number one transfer institution, offering nearly 100 excellent degrees and certificates. The College empowers academic and developmental experiences, allowing students to reach their full potential and enhance the communities they serve. More than a million students have enrolled in the College since it opened in 1965. Learn more at

Media Contact: Marketing & Communications | (248) 341-2020 |