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Cougar Health Services mental health

Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic

student in room studying book

The mental health impact of this pandemic is very real.  If you’re feeling anxious, stressed, or depressed, you are not alone. Most people have never experienced such a large-scale challenge, and this one may affect our mental and physical well-being, our finances, our social connections, and the health and safety of our loved ones.  Isolation, changes in school and employment, and concern about our families and friends can increase feelings of worry, fear, and sadness. It’s even harder to navigate these challenges when we may not have access to our typical coping strategies and ways of practicing self-care.

We’re all learning new ways to cope and adapt to new daily habits and uncertainty about what the future holds. Please check out the resources below for help in developing and maintaining healthy habits, and for information about ways to access help if you need it.

Virtual Workshops with CAPS Staff

Tips and Resources from our CAPS Counselors in Cougar Health Services:

Text “@Stress” to 73940 to get personalized stress management techniques sent to your phone.

We will check in with you occasionally to see how you are doing and we will send you regular tips and reminders for lowering stress, customized to your individual stress level. We have adapted some of our content to be particularly helpful in addressing COVID-19 related stress.

You may also benefit from checking out techniques to cope with worry, stress, anxiety and depression as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, outlined by our community partners at Palouse River Counseling (PRC).

Counseling and Psychological Services

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) will be providing all services by secure Zoom or telephone. Please call the reception desk at 509-335-4511 during regular business hours to access services, whether you are a current counseling client, current psychiatry client, or a student who wants to start counseling.

Mental health and young adults

The transition to college is a time filled with excitement and new possibilities. But this season of life can also be challenging and stressful as you adjust to college and the changes in your life. Stress can develop from academic pressure, relationship changes, lack of sleep, and becoming more independent.

Stress is a normal part of life, but it can affect your mental health and impact not only school, but day to day living. In spring, we collected National College Health Assessment data at WSU Pullman and found in the last year, 86 percent of WSU students felt overwhelmed. Another 64 percent of Cougs expressed they felt very lonely.

Our mental health is how we manage our emotions and cope with stress. Just as we take care of our physical health, we can also care for our mental health. We can all work together to build a supportive campus community.

Cougs can take action to cope when feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or lonely. You can:

  • Spend time with friends and family
  • Participate in activities you enjoy doing
  • Eat a healthy meal
  • Exercise regularly
  • Take breaks from studying to rest and recharge
  • Get a good night of sleep

Every Coug should also be familiar with campus mental health resources. Cougar Health Services provides a free and confidential online mental health screening, which provides recommendations on campus resources to support your mental wellness.

We offer Mental Health First Aid and Campus Connect trainings, where participants learn how to identify mental illnesses, intervene during a crisis, and support themselves and others. WSU also have guides for helping students in distress.

WSU is following the JED approach to develop campus-wide collaboration for mental health awareness and suicide prevention.

To receive updates on WSU’s mental health efforts, subscribe to Cougar Health Services News.

Get stress management tips on your phone

Get stress management tips

Feeling stressed, need help coping, or just want tips for managing your stress? We can help!

Join our text messaging program and we will:

  • Check in with you every week to see how you’re doing
  • Send you weekly tips for lowering stress
  • Share information about health-related events and resources around campus

To sign up, text “STRESS” to 30644. You can join at any point in the semester!

You can also check out our stress management workshops and other programs.

New mental health promotion specialist

Earlier this month, we hired a new mental health promotion and suicide prevention specialist, Nikita Alimohammad. Nikita previously worked on our team as a health educator, and will now lead suicide prevention efforts on campus, including coordination for our grant work. This includes SAMHSA’s Garrett Lee Smith Grant and the JED Foundation campus program.

We created the specialist role two years ago as part of WSU’s focus on mental health and suicide prevention. The position was vacant for the majority of the 2017-2018 school year, and filling the role will help us build on previous success in promoting mental health on campus.

In her new role, Nikita will collaborate with campus partners on our community-based approach to mental health promotion. She will analyze collected data and feedback to identify high-risk student populations and improve health promotion student outreach trainings.  One of her first projects will be coordinating the Healthy Minds study, an online survey conducted every year to collect information on student mental health.

Nikita earned her bachelor’s degree in health sciences with a focus in administration and management from California State University, East Bay. She then went on to earn her master’s degree in public health at San Diego State University.

In her previous role as a health educator, Nikita led Mental Health First Aid trainings and supported our IMPACT program and student reinstatement and enrichment workshops.

Toolkit for supporting students in distress

Toolkit for supporting students in distress

Student Affairs is currently developing a toolkit that faculty and staff can use to help students who are in distress. The goal of the toolkit is to ensure students have a successful academic career by getting them connected to campus resources that will support their specific needs.

Faculty and staff play a key role in the lives of students. They work closely with them and are often able to notice when a student is having a hard time.

With the help of the toolkit, faculty and staff will be able to recognize potential signs of distress, respond in the moment, and connect the student to appropriate campus resources.

The guide will cover a wide range of concerns. For example, if a student experiences the loss of a family member, financial issues, violence, or a mental health concern, the guide will offer steps for helping the student and connecting them to specific campus resources.

To develop this guide, we reviewed similar toolkits from other universities and sought feedback from WSU faculty, advisors, deans, administrators, and staff. Our team decided to adapt a guide created by UMatter at UMass and tailor it to the specific needs of our community.

The toolkit will be available this fall in an online format. If you want to know when it’s live, you can subscribe to receive email updates about suicide prevention and mental health promotion.

Accomplishments during grant’s first year

Accomplishments during grant’s first year

We recently met with members of the Campus Mental Health Collaborative to discuss ongoing suicide prevention and mental health promotion efforts.

During our meeting, we talked about goals for the SAMSHA Garrett Lee Smith Suicide Prevention Grant and what we’ve done so far.

SAMSHA grant goals

Promote mental health through campus-wide partnerships. Together, collaborative members are actively looking for ways to support each other’s mental health promotion efforts. For example, during our meeting, departments brainstormed the idea of adding a mental health component to their staff and student trainings.

Offer suicide prevention training. Last year we began offering suicide prevention training, Campus Connect. Over 430 Cougs have taken this training and we expanded it to an online format.

In addition to education on best practices for responding to someone in crisis, Campus Connect teaches essential communication and relationship building skills. Departments like Athletics and Residence Life find this training so valuable, they require their employees to take it.

Collect and evaluate data to refine our mental health promotion activities. We want all Cougs to get more information about suicide prevention and to get help if they experience a mental health concern. To measure our progress towards these goals, we use data from the National College Health Assessment and quarterly grant reports. This data will also help us understand how we can support students’ changing mental health needs.

Expand and improve programs for students. This past spring, we launched a stress management texting program which sends students tips for managing their stress – over 680 Cougs have signed up! Currently, we’re expanding this program for student-athletes, and we hope to offer it to more groups on campus.

Moving forward, we plan to adapt content from a research-based stress management workshop. We also are looking for faculty collaborators to evaluate the texting program.

Inform Cougs about support services and decrease stigma around mental health. We’re working with a team of students in the Murrow College of Communication on a campaign to promote a mental health screening tool and educate students about resources and suicide risk factors.

For the remainder of our meeting, collaborative members gave updates on their current mental health promotion activities and we brainstormed ways to use existing resources to expand our efforts. The meeting concluded with feedback on a guide for responding to students in crisis, which is currently in development.

We look forward to building relationships with collaborative members and supporting each other’s work. If you would like to learn more about the collaborative and stay up-to-date on mental health promotion and suicide prevention, you can subscribe to receive email updates.

Try light therapy for seasonal affective disorder

Try light therapy for seasonal affective disorder

When the fall and winter months roll around and there’s less sunlight, some people experience symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

SAD is a type of depression that occurs during a specific season, and subsides for the rest of the year. Symptoms of SAD are different for everyone, but they can include low energy, poor mood, fatigue, and similar symptoms.

How light therapy can help

If you’re experiencing SAD or other types of depression, consider trying light therapy. Light therapy involves using a specialized lamp that mimics real sunshine and produces similar benefits. It can help improve mood, regulate sleep hormones, increase levels of vitamin D, and relieve other symptoms of SAD.

For best results, our healthcare providers recommend using light therapy for 20 to 30 minutes first thing in the morning. You’ll want to sit 16 inches to two feet away from the light, without looking directly into it.

Before you try light therapy, be sure to talk with your healthcare provider about risks, benefits, and other special considerations.

What to look for when buying a light therapy lamp

Want to buy your own light therapy unit? Try to get one with at least 10,000 lux. This level of light is optimal for reducing symptoms of SAD.

If you’re a client with Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), you can use the light therapy lamp in their relaxation room (Washington Building room 302A). To access this lamp, all you need to do is talk with a CAPS staff member at the front desk during regular business hours.

Light therapy is just one treatment option for SAD and other types of depression. There are many other options you can try! If you’re experiencing any symptoms of depression, don’t hesitate to drop in during Counseling and Psychological Services’ walk-in hours, or make an appointment with your healthcare provider.

Overcome the stress of perfection

Overcome the stress of perfection

Having high expectations for yourself can be a good thing. It can help you excel at your job and in class. But having standards that are too high can lead to stress and feelings of frustration when they’re not met.

Perfectionism is the tendency to set standards so high, they’re unattainable or only met with great difficulty. Someone who has perfectionist tendencies believes that anything short of perfect is a problem and fears making mistakes.

The effects of perfectionism

Feelings. Perfectionism can cause you to feel depressed, frustrated, anxious, and even angry. If you tend to criticize yourself for not doing what you think is a good job, these feelings can be more intense.

Thinking. You might think anything less than perfect is a failure. You may believe your self-worth depends on your achievements and that others judge you based on your accomplishments.

Behaviors. Perfectionism can cause you to chronically procrastinate, have difficulty completing tasks, or give up easily on something because you don’t feel it’s perfect. Perfectionism can also keep you from being creative and innovative.

Mental health. Perfectionism is related to eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and stress.

So how can you tell if perfectionism has gotten out of hand? Ask yourself:

  • Is it difficult for me to meet my own expectations?
  • Do I feel frustrated, depressed, anxious, or angry when I try to meet my standards?
  • Do my standards get in the way of doing what I want or need to do?
  • Do they make it difficult for me to meet deadlines, finish a task, trust others, or be spontaneous?

Tips for overcoming perfectionism

Think realistically. Challenge negative self-talk with realistic statements and self-compassion. For example, when you start to be overly critical of yourself, try to be kind and remind yourself nobody is perfect.

Try a new perspective. When you don’t meet your own expectations, try and view yourself as a friend would. They’d probably highlight positive things. Sure, you didn’t work out five days last week, but you made it to the gym three times and that’s a perfectly reasonable amount.

Conquer procrastination. Perfectionists tend to put off to dos because they may be unsure how to do something perfectly. Try practicing self-compassion for overcoming procrastination.

Create realistic expectations. You have a limited amount of time and energy. Try to spend these resources on projects, assignments, and other things that are most important. Prioritizing your to do list and setting SMART goals can help you set realistic expectations.

Allow yourself to make mistakes. You might fear making mistakes, but making them is a completely natural and expected part of human existence. After you make a few mistakes, you’ll realize it’s not the worst that can happen.

The content in this post is adapted from Anxiety BC®’s guide on “How to overcome perfectionism.”

Campus-wide support for mental health

Campus-wide support for mental health

This week, the Campus Mental Health Collaborative will meet to discuss ongoing suicide prevention and mental health promotion efforts.

The collaborative launched last fall as part of Health & Wellness Services’ involvement in the SAMHSA Garrett Lee Smith Campus Suicide Prevention Grant and the JED Foundation campus program.

Currently, we’re streamlining campus crisis protocols to ensure students in distress get the support they need. Members are also in the process of implementing suggestions from the JED Foundation. For example, Health & Wellness Services and Counseling and Psychological Services are working to better integrate medical systems and expand the number of suicide prevention and mental health training opportunities.

At the upcoming meeting, we plan to review a guide for helping faculty and staff respond to a student in distress. Members will also give updates on their priority projects for mental health and discuss options for expanding access to trainings on other WSU campuses. We’ll continue to look for ways we can support each other’s efforts.

The meeting will take place on October 5, 2017 at 10:00 am in Lighty 405. All are welcome to attend.

To stay updated with mental health promotion and news about the collaborative efforts, make sure you subscribe to our mailing list.