Reminder to students of University resources to support mental health and wellbeing

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pennsylvania — With the start of the semester, Penn State is reminding students of the resources available to support their mental health.

Natalie Hernandez DePalma, Senior Director of Penn State Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), and Brett Scofield, Associate Director of CAPS, both note that the number of students seeking counseling services has increased nationwide in course of the last decade. Additionally, the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have been felt nationally, with students reporting an impact of COVID on their well-being and mental health.

“What the data shows us is that some particular areas of distress have increased, like anxiety,” DePalma said. “But increased distress isn’t necessarily the only reason demand is rising. On the contrary, mental health awareness has become a more prominent part of the cultural conversation.

Scofield, who is also executive director of the Center for Collegiate Mental Health, noted that “more and more students are feeling comfortable asking for help, and a growing number of faculty and staff are successfully identifying students with mental health issues and refer them to services, which is a positive trend Initiatives such as the Red Folder, which has been well received and incorporated into the training and orientation of new and current staff, are helping those who interact with students learn to “recognize, respond and refer” students for help.

The original red folder initiative was made possible by a substantial increase in CAPS funding from President Eric Barron in 2017 and major donation support from the 2020 and 2016 senior class. The University Park Undergraduate Association also helped create and leading the initiative, which aims to educate faculty and staff across campuses on how to identify signs that a student may be experiencing mental health or wellness issues, as well as the resources available to benefit them. A recent expansion of the red folder offered additional guidance and resources for low and moderate distress in addition to high distress options, and new printed folders will be distributed at University Park and Commonwealth campuses this semester.

An important part of the Red Folder and building a community of care is the “no wrong door” concept practiced throughout Penn State, De Palma and Scofield said. This allows students to get information, support and direction from whomever they can approach. While every office cannot meet every need, staff expect and appreciate the opportunity to help a student find the next step and resource in their journey as a student.

“The important thing to know is that Penn State cares about you, we’re here for you, and we’re equipped to support and empower you. Asking for help demonstrates strength and is a sign of self-compassion and caring,” Scofield said.

Helping to care for and watch over other Penn Staters, including friends, colleagues and peers, is also an important part of what it means to be part of the Penn State community.

“If you feel something is wrong, say something,” DePalma said. “If you think someone is struggling, check in with them, ask how they’re doing, or contact a trusted source, like CAPS or the Penn State Crisis Line, for advice.”

Mental Health and Wellness Resources

This health and wellness webpage, maintained by Penn State Student Affairs, details the many wellness and mental health resources available to support and empower Penn State students, including:

  • Counseling and mental health services available through CAPS, which can be contacted at 814-863-0395 for University Park students, or at each Commonwealth campus location.

  • WellTrack, a free app that offers interactive tools to build resilience and manage stress, depression and anxiety with self-help videos; and tips for determining next steps.

  • Life Hacks, step-by-step wellness kits designed to help you navigate and demystify some of the most confusing parts of being human. Instructors can use these as pre-packaged extra credit options for their students.

  • Drop-in groups focus on peer support and discussion. Drop by at your convenience during group time. These are not therapy groups and no appointment is required. Topics cover wellness, sexual and gender diversity, empowering women of color, empowering black and Latino men, interfaith dialogues, and addiction recovery.

  • Health Promotion and Wellness at University Park offers wellness and stress management programs.

  • Free wellness sessions on topics such as stress, sleep, nutrition, physical activity, healthy relationships and sexual health.

  • On-campus recreation program, including personal and group fitness classes, outdoor recreation, intramural sports, and other offerings.

  • A full range of medical, physiotherapy, preventive care and vaccination services available through University Health Services.

  • The Collegiate Recovery Community helps students recover from alcohol and other substance use disorders.

  • Support for students experiencing food and housing insecurity or struggling with other basic needs, including assistance with groceries and meals, toiletries and household items, housing, rent and utilities, medical bills and health insurance, textbooks, child care and financial emergencies.

  • The Red Folder Initiative offers guidance to faculty and staff on how to identify students who may have mental health issues and the resources available to support them.

  • The Penn State Crisis Line (877-229-6400) and Crisis Text Line (text “LIONS” to 741741), which are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to Penn Staters dealing with both crisis situations and non-crisis – including faculty, staff and students from all campuses who have a question about someone else. Penn State Crisis Line’s licensed professionals can help assess each individual situation, offer guidance, and help connect callers with other resources as needed.

  • Penn State University Libraries has a personal health and mental wellness library guide available that includes a variety of wellness-related resources.

Additional Crisis Resources

For those in immediate crisis, services through CAPS are available without the wait. DePalma and Scofield said a “crisis” can include thoughts of harming yourself or others, loss of housing, a recent death in the family, or any other traumatic event that has a deep and profound impact. negative on daily living and ability to function.

If you want to connect with a mental health professional in a crisis:

  • For immediate or life-threatening emergencies, dial 911.

  • Call CAPS at 814-863-0395 during regular business hours or connect with counseling offices available at each of Penn State’s Commonwealth campuses.

  • Call the Penn State Crisis Line – a free 24/7 service staffed by licensed professionals available to all Penn State students and those concerned about a student, at University Park and Commonwealth Campuses – at 877-229 -6400.

  • Text the 24/7 Crisis Text Line, another 24/7 resource available to all community members, by texting “LIONS” to 741741.

Students facing unforeseen challenges can also connect with the Office of Student Care and Advocacy, which works with students struggling with everything from medical emergencies and hospitalization to food or housing insecurity. . Student Care and Advocacy works with partners across the University to empower students impacted by medical issues, mental health crises, food and housing insecurity, and more. Students at Commonwealth campuses may also benefit from the services offered by the Student Affairs Office at their individual campus.

Mental health and wellness tips and strategies

DePalma and Scofield acknowledged that college can be a particularly stressful time for many students and that events from previous years, including the COVID-19 pandemic, continue to affect students in different ways. But one important thing to understand is that feeling stressed in times of stress or anxious in times of uncertainty is a normal and healthy human response to life, especially life transitions.

“Anxiety is your body’s way of communicating that something is wrong that it wants you to pay attention to,” Scofield said. “In the new circumstances of life, some anxiety is normal, even healthy. Be patient with yourself as you adapt. It’s when this anxiety rises above normal levels – if you feel nervous and upset on a regular basis, or if the anxiety interferes with your ability to lead your life effectively – that you should seek help.

James Dillard, professor emeritus of communication arts and sciences at Penn State, who studies how people experience and deal with fear of infectious disease, said that “although it is normal to feel uncertain or even fearful in uncertain times, there are also strategies you can use to help manage your emotions.

Dillard said taking breaks from the news and social media can help manage stress and improve an individual’s well-being. He said individuals should assess the impact that pandemic-related news has on them while being aware of their mental and emotional state, and adjust their media consumption and interpersonal communication based on that.

Dillard, DePalma, and Scofield also shared that taking care of your body and your overall well-being can contribute to positive mental health. They advise students to keep moving their bodies regularly, get enough sleep, eat healthy, balanced meals at regular intervals, and avoid alcohol and drug use.

“Whatever you’re going through or feeling, let yourself feel it and practice compassionate acceptance of yourself,” DePalma said. “Rather than trying to silence negative feelings, it’s important to be honest with yourself and the people around you, especially if you need support. And it’s just as important, for everyone , to stay connected to your important people, the hobbies and passions that are important to you, and your own sense of your greatest purpose in the world.

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