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Campus and School community encourage self-care and mental health support

The UNC-Chapel Hill community, including School of Social Work faculty, students, and staff gathered during the week of Oct. 11 for several listening sessions to encourage self-care and mental health support following the tragic death of two students on campus during the past month.

The drop-in support sessions, which were facilitated by Counseling and Psychological Services, the Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine and School of Social Work, were organized out of widespread concern for the mental health of the campus and country, which Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz noted were in crisis. Guskiewicz called particular attention to college-age students who are at higher risk for suicide.

In recognition of the need for a wellness day, the University canceled classes on Oct. 12 and encouraged students to seek counseling and other resources as needed and to use the day for respite care and wellness activities. Faculty and staff in need of support were also directed to reach out to the Employee Assistance Program.

The University also announced plans to host a mental health summit and to launch the Heels Care Network, a campus-wide campaign to promote mental health awareness.

At the School of Social Work, Tara Bohley, clinical assistant professor and director of the Behavioral Health Springboard, responded to requests to host more sessions of Mental Health First Aid, a course that teaches participates to recognize the risk factors and warning signs of mental health and substance abuse problems. Faculty with Academic and Student Affairs and the School’s Wellness Committee also hosted support sessions for students. In addition, leaders in Field Education held check-in sessions with field instructors and community partners. The message during each gathering was clear: Individuals must find opportunities to rest and rejuvenate, especially given the social, economic, physical, mental, and academic challenges and stress over the last 19 months due to an ongoing pandemic.

“I know … that our sense of resilience may be wearing thin during what has proven to be an exceptionally challenging semester,” noted Dean Ramona Denby-Brinson and Senior Associate Dean for MSW Education Lisa de Saxe Zerden in a joint message to the School community. “At the same time, I am proud of how well we have responded to every challenge, I am also very aware that we all need to step back, breathe, and focus on those things that give us joy and strength. We want to feel a sense of grace as we move through each day. We crave peacefulness. We can find these opportunities, in part, through our own commitment to wellness.”

The week of activities align with the School’s goal to create and sustain a culture of physical, social and emotional health, said Robin Sansing, the School’s newly appointed director of wellness. She’s also hopeful that the University’s ongoing efforts to strengthen mental health will create a community where students, faculty and staff feel safe to seek help when needed and an overall sense of belonging.

“One thing that has become obvious is how important it is to talk about our mental and emotional well-being – with friends, family, community members, support providers, anyone that makes us feel heard,” Sansing said. “Saying it out loud normalizes the reality that everyone has mental health needs and helps us take the next step in getting support.”

Not sure how to have the conversation? Check out Seize the Awkward website here.

If you are struggling right now, for whatever reason, a few resources below may help:
Information about the Peer2Peer program, because we need more than self-care. We need community care.
Tips from UNC Healthy Heels on grief & healing
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline
UNC’s Employee Assistance Program
Headspace’s resources for coping with the unknown, during uncertain times