Students and community members have felt the long-term effects of the pandemic over the past two years and it is more important now than ever to take care of our mental health, according to representatives from the Wellness Center and Student Counseling Services.
“I think one of the biggest things that has had a negative impact is the isolation people have been feeling,” Health Promotion Coordinator at the Wellness Center Sabeth Jackson said. “There is a lot of research that shows that our bodies biologically respond to stress differently when we’re around other people, so having a sense of support changes the kind of stress chemicals that we release.”
Director of Student Counseling Services Cindy Bruns added that we are collectively experiencing the same sense of loss through this trying time.
“There is a collective grief,” Bruns said. “Certainly there are students who have lost loved ones to death from COVID or other reasons, and maybe COVID prevented them from being able to engage in the same rituals that we have around death and dying in our society.”
Bruns said many students have experienced the grief of missing significant life events, as was the case for many seniors who missed graduation over the past two years.
“We’ve certainly seen students who, because of the year of isolation, are now reemerging and figuring out how to navigate being back around groups of people and in classrooms,” Bruns said.
Jackson said she noticed a similar change, as some younger incoming students showed developmental challenges.
“It seems like some of the students that are just coming to campus for the first time are really lacking some of the life skills or coping skills that students had before,” Jackson said.
According to Bruns, the transition back to in-person has been “jarring” for those who already struggled with social anxiety. She said the pandemic has resulted in more cases of depression and higher demands on Student Counseling Services.
To demonstrate this shift, Bruns shared that between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021, Student Counseling Services saw 581 students. Between July 1, 2021 up until the present time, they have already seen 511 students, which is an increase from the same time period in the previous year and is bound to surpass last year’s numbers by the end of the year in a significant way.
“We’re doing the best we can,” Bruns said. “We are down with staff as well, similar to what’s going on nationwide.”
Resources on campus
According to Bruns, they are trying to be creative in how they serve CWU by encouraging students to utilize group therapy services, spacing out sessions and referring them to the WildcatCare 365 service, which is a website/app where students can book regular sessions or emergency immediate sessions with a variety of therapists.
“[WildcatCare365] is an extension of Student Counseling and Student Health Services,” Bruns said. “It’s like my staff has doubled because we’re able to coordinate care for students and refer back and forth if we need to.”
Bruns said WildcatCare 365 offers weekend and evening appointments for those who may be unable to get into Student Counseling due to scheduling conflicts, and she encouraged students to access care in whatever way best suits them.
“We really want to see you,” Bruns said. “We want to see students get the support they need.”
The Wellness Center has provided programs such as Mindful Mondays and Wellness Wednesdays throughout this school year to offer outlets for connection and healthy coping.
Additionally, the Wellness Wagon will be roaming through campus next week engaging students in discussions about feelings and relevant topics, according to Jackson.
“These programs are looking at the dimensions of wellbeing and how to support students in building some of those areas up,” Jackson said. “Next quarter, my plan for spring is to offer a six-week mindfulness series workshop.”
Jackson said she teaches students an exercise based on Buddhist practices called “tonglen,” which is the act of sending healing energy and receiving suffering from others. The exercise is done by breathing in and imagining the suffering of another person or group, then exhaling and imagining that you are sending loving energy back to them.
Jackson said this exercise is similar to the techniques that will be taught in her six-week mindfulness workshop. She encouraged students to stay updated with the Wellness Center next quarter to get involved.
According to Bruns, Student Counseling Services has offered a variety of support groups for marginalized communities throughout the pandemic.
This quarter features a group called Beyond the Binary, which focuses on individuals who do not identify within the gender binary. The group meets on Fridays from 3-4:30 p.m., and Bruns encouraged students to email [email protected] to sign up.
Self compassion and care
Bruns emphasized the importance of self compassion as we enter new phases of the pandemic.
“We live in a society that encourages us that we should just do what we’ve always done, no matter what is going on around us,” Bruns said. “People may not be functioning to the level they were able to prior to the pandemic. People are tired and burned out, so look back and take some space to acknowledge the impact of the last couple years.”
Bruns recommended that students have reasonable expectations for themselves, engage in small acts of self care daily and find places to connect with caring people. Jackson seconded this and said that building a community of support is crucial.
“That can be through finding clubs where you have some things in common with other people or thinking about the people in your dorm and residence hall that you might want to connect with,” Jackson said.
Both Bruns and Jackson recommended spending time outside in nature and sunlight, going on walks with friends and finding space to be quiet and calm. Jackson also recommended yoga and meditation, and Bruns recommended drinking water instead of drinks with caffeine.
“Self care is an accumulation of small things throughout the day that help support us,” Bruns said.
Students can stay updated on offerings from Student Counseling Services and the Wellness Center by following them on Instagram, @cwu_counseling_services and @cwuwellness.
Student Counseling Services: (509) 963-1391
Mental health crisis support: 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741
Wellness Center: (509) 963-3213
WildcatCare 365: https://timely.md/schools/index.php?school=wildcatcare365 or download WildcatCare 365 App