As we round the corner of the Covid-19 crisis, the international conversation has shifted towards a safe and steady economic recovery, buttressed by the global effort to vaccinate billions of people. While countless experts in the business, political, and scientific communities will continue to weigh in on these issues, I think it is important for us to consider another key factor in our march toward beating this virus and returning to normalcy.
Over the past decade or so, there has been a growing cultural shift towards understanding and cultivating mental health, and destigmatizing some of the preventative and corrective pathways associated with overall mental health and wellness. Millennials, and now Generation Z, have shown a unique proclivity for self-awareness and a willingness to ask for relevant support services as they navigate different phases of their lives. In higher education, we have come to realize that the success of our students in the classroom is not the only indicator of the strength of our value proposition as colleges and universities. Student development requires a holistic approach, one that includes mental health and well-being.
We are very fortunate at LSUS to have a robust and ever-evolving student support function on our campus, made up of skilled and dedicated staff. One area in particular, Counseling Services, has been working tirelessly since the start of the pandemic to listen to the needs of students and provide much-needed services in this very challenging time.
One notable initiative is a podcast titled Say It Out Loud: Tackling Tough Topics Together, available for streaming on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. The series covers education related topics such as Emotional Challenges around Changing Majors and Burnout Factors to Poor Time Management in the Research Process, as well as episodes such as Dealing with Political Stress and Social Media and Body Image, which tackle non-academic issues.
The department has also created a number of peer educator initiatives for students, with the goal of promoting mental health awareness. Students receive training in peer leadership, motivating behavior change, listening skills, response and referral skills, how to take action and intervene, recognizing the role of diversity and inclusivity, self-care, and group dynamics. These types of programs were created based on research showing the importance of using trained peers in wellness programming, as students are the key curators of change and primary support systems for their peers.
In addition, the department has instituted telehealth services, rolled out Therapy Assistance Online (TAO – an anonymous, online mental health self-help platform), installed a biofeedback training/meditation space (Zen Zone), created a YouTube channel that includes recorded workshops/meditations, created a Wellness Task Force, added a mental health syllabus statement, and published resource lists for COVID-19 and social justice/racial trauma.
This may seem like an exhaustive list, but I assure you they are only some of the measures being implemented to help our students navigate college life in these challenging times. I think as industry leaders we can all take lessons from these types of initiatives, even if it is just to take stock of how the pandemic has affected our own mental well-being, as well as that of our employees. How can our colleagues/employees benefit from programs such as these? How do we prioritize mental health and well-being in our organizations? Do we have an established network of peer advocacy and support among our employees? Are we doing enough to help replenish emotional and mental stores that have been depleted over the last 12 months as our organizations have been weathering storm after storm? Dealing with Covid-19 has been a long, challenging journey for everyone, and its final toll is yet to be tabulated. As we check off the incremental victories against the impacts of the virus, let’s be sure to keep mental health in the conversation.
Larry Clark | Chancellor of LSUS