ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – In just one year, there has been a 50% increase in teachers referring their students to mental health counselors within Abilene ISD, and this is not the only local learning environment dealing with a mental health crisis. 

Aaron Martinez began working as the university counselor at Hardin-Simmons University (HSU) in 2020, near the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. While he noticed many students were seeking help, what he did not know was that this number would only continue to grow, leading up to this year. 

“We have just seen an incremental increase, especially in the fall semesters because we have more freshman,” Martinez explained. “On average, I’m seeing six to seven students a day for therapy, and that doesn’t include any emergency dynamics that we need to respond to.” 

As the demand increases, available resources have remained the same, Martinez told KTAB/KRBC. He added that it has caused some friction in getting everyone the help they need. 

While Martinez does not have a percentage of increase at the university, his findings were confirmed by Abilene ISD, which did have numbers. Behavior Coordinator for the district, Rosemary Hollingsworth, supported a major jump in teachers sending students to counseling within the past year – about 50% worth. 

“It’s a challenge because as a school district, our goal is to have students in classrooms learning,” said Hollingsworth. “We know that relationship is the number one way of reducing mental health issues.” 

Hollingsworth credited the increase in numbers to COVID causing a decrease in relationships and an increase in technology. This, happening at a time when students’ brains are still developing, led to them not having strong coping mechanisms. She said she also believes we live in a transitionary period of working to figure out how to handle the effects of the pandemic. 

While Martinez agreed, he said college students are also dealing with the challenges of growing up with unrealistic expectations set by the online world. 

“Social media has a pretty big impact on how people interact with each other,” Martinez began. “A lot of where their value comes from is based off their peers and, like, comparing themselves. ‘How am I doing compared to other people?’ And when that’s maybe, sometimes an unrealistic expectation, they have a hard time coming to terms with ‘who am I?’ in that process.” 

While HSU and AISD are both trying to keep up with the demand, these counselors said there is hope. 

“We’re going to make the change. We are going to shift as systems, as humans, as families,” assured Hollingsworth. She said theses modifications will just take some time to adjust. 

Because it’s becoming more trendy to be realistic and unfiltered on social media, Martinez told KTAB/KRBC he’s hopeful our newer generations will learn to adjust to unrealistic expectations in healthier ways.

As mental health crises grow, it is important to stay vigilant in getting people in need the right resources. BigCountryHomepage.com has several articles with loads of resources.

After an hours-long standoff between a Betty Hardwick Center client and the Abilene Police Department in August, we made a list of resources in the Abilene area.

Likewise, the death of a bronc rider at the West Texas Fair & Rodeo in September called for the Expo Center Board of Directors to release another set of resources.

Outside of town, you may call: 9-8-8, the dedicated national suicide and crisis lifeline; or 2-1-1, a Texas community assistance program for a wide variety of topics. An operator would connect you with an appropriate service.

If you are struggling with anxiety or depression, Martinez’s advice is to improve your self-care, physical care, and social activities. Focusing on those three areas can relieve symptoms quickly for most people, he added.