New Student Counseling Director Hopes To Widen The Campus Lens On Mental Health

Mental illnesses affect 19 percent of the adult population, with more than 18 percent of those adults struggling with some type of anxiety disorder. However, only half of those affected receive treatment, often because of the stigma attached to mental health or the lack of awareness around treatment options.

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Dr. Mary Ann Covey, newly appointed director of the Division of Student Affairs’ Student Counseling Service, is hoping to break the barriers and stigma surrounding mental health for the 63,600 Texas A&M University students.

“Even with all the attention metal health has received over the past few years, many people including our students are not aware of many treatment options available to them,” said Covey. “I see many students who need to sit down and speak with a counselor, but sometimes the best treatment option may be group therapy or a breathing/meditation app like Headspace to help students function in their day-to-day environments.”

Covey, who is originally from upstate New York, arrived at Texas A&M in 1988 for graduate school with a practicum in student counseling and in 1992 she earned her Ph.D in counseling psychology. Over the years, she not only fell in love with the university but also with an Aggie. For more than 30 years, Covey has worked tirelessly in student counseling to help students succeed during their college careers.

“There are a variety of ways to work on your mental health, but the most important thing I want students to know is this: Do not try to escape your feelings,” she said. “Mental health is not something that can be fixed or simply checked off your list. I want to empower students to help themselves, to learn their strengths, to continually develop resiliency, and to understand that failure is OK.”

Counseling students can definitely take a personal toll, but Covey has strong backing from an amazing team of counselors in her department, along with support from her husband John Covey ’89 and two daughters: Jane (15) and Ellen (13). With little free time between Jane’s involvement on the soccer team and Ellen’s choir commitments, Covey still manages to find pockets of free time and share her Aggie pride at Texas A&M football games.

Covey’s combined passion for Texas A&M and mental health make her a perfect fit for her role as director. Kristie De La Garza, a professional counselor at Texas A&M’s Student Counseling Service and a long-time friend and coworker of Covey, couldn’t agree more.

“Mary Ann Covey is a woman of strong character who has a deep care for others,” Kristie De La Garza, Professional Counselor (TAMU Student Counseling Service) said. “She consistently makes herself available to others and is passionate about mental health issues.”

With a growing student population and a subsequent rise in the need for counseling services, Covey has helped oversee the continued growth of her department. Student Counseling Service has grown its staff more than 20 percent and is working to fill six additional staff positions. While departmental growth is a key goal, Covey also has a vision for her department and for mental health as a whole.

“I want to widen the lens on mental health,” she said. “We have embedded counseling staff in athletics and the vet school, but I also want to collaborate within the Division of Student Affairs and across campus. We need to better prepare our faculty and staff, and to provide tools for our diverse campus community.”

Texas A&M is a global community that invites wonderfully diverse populations in race, religion, and gender, as well as psychically and mentally. Since her time as an intern, Covey has strived to create resources and tools students can use to benefit themselves and positively affect those around them.

One such resource was the creation of Aggie Allies―Texas A&M staff, faculty and students who display an Ally placard outside their offices or residence halls to identify themselves as individuals who are willing to provide a safe haven, a listening ear, and support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

“I initially became involved with the foundation of the Aggie Allies program because I saw a student who had been harassed as a result of holding hands with a same-sex partner,” Covey said. “Another staff member at student counseling was also aware of a similar situation with another student. We discovered several other student affairs personnel who had concerns about the safety of GLBTQ+ students at Texas A&M, so we worked together to create a safe place for these students. I am still involved today by supporting Aggie Allies and hanging my placard outside my office.”

Although Covey may be at the start of her position as director of student counseling, her more than two decades of experience in counseling, specifically with Texas A&M students, make her uniquely qualified for the barriers she will inevitably break on her conquest for mental health awareness. Already she is achieving recognition for her work in counseling: Covey is the recipient of the 2017-2018 John D. Black Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Practice of Counseling Psychology from the Society of Counseling Psychology.

This story by Courtney Rhodes originally appeared on the Division of Student Affairswebsite.

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