Summer 2020

Well-Being and a Touch of Empathy

Listening to our student community means prioritizing mental health.

Biking, walking and regular exercise are doctor recommended for maintaining health and wellness, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. We’ve all seen busy bike and walking paths with masked joggers and families enjoying an evening walk. At the University of Arizona, the Mall is dotted with students playing Frisbee and practicing yoga while maintaining social distance.

As we navigate pandemic recovery, immune resiliency will continue to dominate conversations. For many, well-being means physical health. However, self-isolation and quarantine also are leading to conversations about mental health concerns, especially for college students. 

“The primary focus during this pandemic has been on physical health, and that’s very understandable. But I think a wave of focusing on mental health is coming,” says Glenn Matchett-Morris, director of the university’s Counseling and Psych Services.

Matchett-Morris expects “a tremendous rush” of students seeking services from CAPS for the first time when students return to campus in the fall. 

For many students, living through the pandemic and its associated isolation protocol is creating a buildup of stress, anxiety and grief.

“People have been living in chronic fear and uncertainty,” he says.

Some students are already accessing CAPS services through video sessions. Some are sharing struggles with the transition to online learning, for both technical and academic reasons. Graduating seniors mourn their inability to celebrate in person with their families and worry about finding their first professional jobs in a difficult environment. And financial concerns also are a common theme in treatment sessions, says Matchett-Morris.

But lack of privacy is hindering some students’ sessions, especially for those whose families aren’t supportive of them seeking counseling. 

“It’s a challenge for them to get support if their parents don’t want them to have it. Similarly, with the LGBTQ population, if they’re not out to their families, they’re challenged to have a session and speak freely,” he says.

Although almost all sessions are currently conducted by video or phone, CAPS kept its main clinic open throughout the spring semester to ensure quick response and crisis availability. Virtual walk-in hours and new online support groups were added, as well as a daily guided meditation group, to give students new resources and options.

Matchett-Morris’ general advice to students and others is to stay as socially connected as possible, keep active and maintain a routine.

“We use some of our therapy techniques as well. If someone is really a worrier, they can set a time to worry for 30 minutes,” he says. “And I tell people to support each other and ask for help when they need it.”

Support students’ mental health. 
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