NCCC, Citizen Advocates open counseling office at college

Partnership provides on-campus mental health, substance abuse services

Citizen Advocates’ counselor Shanzy Carter-Martinez is available to meet with North Country Community College students at her office in Hodson Hall on the college’s Saranac Lake campus. (Photo provided)

SARANAC LAKE – North Country Community College and Citizen Advocates have formed a unique partnership to provide students mental health and substance abuse counseling on the college’s Saranac Lake campus.

The new counseling service is an extension of Citizen Advocates’ outpatient Behavioral Health clinics in Saranac Lake and Malone. Located in Hodson Hall 023, the office is open for walk-ins every Wednesday from 3 to 5 p.m. and by appointment Wednesday evenings. The community-based office is staffed by Citizen Advocates’ therapist Shanzy Carter-Martinez, who has a master’s degree in mental health counseling and is pursuing a doctorate in clinical psychology.

This is a new model for providing on-campus counseling services, according to NCCC Dean of Student Life Kim Irland.

“Connecting students to these important support resources off campus was already happening and still happens, but there were some barriers for our residents in Saranac Lake, particularly transportation,” Irland said. “Not all of our students have vehicles to get off campus for a counseling appointment. Now, having this on-campus office will eliminate the transportation barrier and make it easier for students struggling with mental health or substance abuse to access these services between or after classes.”

Irland said the need for on-campus counseling services at the college had been a challenge in the past, but after discussions with colleagues and Beth Lawyer, Citizen Advocates’ Director of Behavioral Health Services, this partnership was pursued to provide quality and sustainable counseling services.

“The college experience is an important and meaningful time for students,” said Beth Lawyer, Director of Behavioral Health Services for Citizen Advocates. “But we also know it is a time when students can feel overwhelmed by the pressures they face, which can lead to struggles in their studies and personal lives. This service is one of the many ways we can help students manage their challenges so they can enjoy what is meant to be a positive time of growth and learning.”

“This partnership is a great gesture to the college community, and the community at large, that Citizen Advocates Behavioral Services is willing to commit resources to this service,” Irland said.

The college’s Student Government Association has stepped up to help students whose health insurance doesn’t cover the cost of the counseling sessions. It’s set aside a pool of money – the River Fund – to ensure students get the support they need.

“A student can come see me and submit an application to request student government funding to offset the cost or cover a certain number of sessions, or if reoccurring co-pays are a financial barrier,” Irland said.

Irland described this as a pilot program. As it continues, she said the college will evaluate the availability of the counselor and the needs of its students to make sure it’s working effectively.

If a student is experiencing a mental health crisis and needs more immediate help, the college has emergency response procedures and would contact the mobile crisis unit through Citizen Advocates’ main office.

Students who’d like to schedule a confidential appointment for behavioral health services on campus or off campus may call 518-891-5535.