April 26, 2019 9:21 am

Going to college can be challenging enough. When you add in struggles with depression, anxiety, finances or other issues, students can easily become overwhelmed -- putting at risk their ability to succeed in school.

That’s why Pierce College offers free, confidential mental health counseling for students at both campuses.

“Being human is hard,” said Megan Irby, a licensed mental health counselor based at Pierce College Fort Steilacoom (her title is faculty counselor). “We all need help from time to time. There should be no guilt or shame about seeking help.”

 “We’re here to help students succeed and to provide whatever support they need,” added Jennifer Wright, faculty counselor at Pierce College Puyallup. “We meet them where they are.”

It’s all part of Pierce College’s strong network of student support services.

Services include:

  • Short-term mental health counseling
  • Links to longer-term counseling resources if needed (they also work with the student’s insurance status).
  • Help with transportation, housing, food scarcity, and other support
  • Crisis services
  • Counseling for domestic violence and sexual assault

“The need is there,” said Wright, noting that she and Irby work with hundreds of students each year.

While the student populations at each campus present somewhat different issues, the most common are anxiety, depression and lack of confidence.

“We often hear from students that they think they have to be in a major crisis to seek help, when in fact, the majority of students we see are suffering from anxiety or depression, lack of confidence or family and relationship issues,” said Wright.  “I use the car maintenance analogy. You don’t wait until your car breaks down to change the oil. Sometimes students just need a tune-up, someone objective to talk to who can help them sort through their feelings. “

Appointments can be made by phone, email or walk-in, and it usually takes about a week to be seen.

“Of course, if it’s a crisis, we will see students right away,” said Wright.

At the Puyallup campus, Wright said, “We are seeing more of the 16-18-year-old Running Start students. They’re going through a whole slew of things as they are in a transition period in their lives.”

At the Fort Steilacoom campus, Irby sees more veterans, international students and students facing social issues including poverty and discrimination.

“In addition to depression and anxiety, we see students coping with homelessness or housing instability, domestic violence, sexual assault and transportation issues,” said Irby.

“We have a large number of veterans who have experienced trauma and have unique needs,” she said. “Unfortunately, many have a stigma about seeking help for mental health issues.”

Both Irby and Wright work closely with the college’s Veteran Resource Center to spread the word about their services and to encourage veterans to reach out to them. Wright has a background in counseling in the military which also helps her connect with these students.

“Then there are students of color who face the more subtle ongoing trauma of discrimination,” said Irby.  “Given the current climate in our world, I’ve had men of color tell me they are scared of being shot just for going about their daily lives.

“With international students, we see culture shock and disordered eating. We also work with students on the autism spectrum who struggle with social awkwardness.”

Regardless of the student and the issues presented, Irby often begins by asking about the self-care basics.

“How are they doing with eating, sleeping and time management? If they can do well with those things,” they’re more likely to succeed,” said Irby.

Both Wright and Irby find tremendous satisfaction in helping students.

“Every year, I go to the graduation ceremony,” said Wright.  “Sometimes students I’ve worked with give me a wink or a hug. It’s always so gratifying to see that they’ve made it to graduation. That’s when I know I’ve had impact.”

For Irby, “The most rewarding thing for me is seeing students brighten up, express more, smile more. I hope I made their day a little better. I was able to bear witness to their pain, they were able to be heard.”

To schedule an appointment: walk in, call or email:

Fort Steilacoom:

Megan Irby, LMHC
Cascade Building, Welcome Center, Room C301G 


Jennifer Wright, LMHC 
Gaspard Building, Student Success Center, Room A106H