UMD’s Counseling Center hosts first of many virtual mental health workshops

The University of Maryland's Health Center on Sept. 16, 2019. (Julia Nikhinson/The Diamondback)

By Sydney Bullock
For The Diamondback

“I want you to all — in the comfort of your own homes or wherever you are — go ahead and start taking in some deep breaths,” said Jessica David, a University of Maryland Counseling Center staff member.

The Monday afternoon Zoom call was one of the Counseling Center’s first virtual mental health workshops, designed to help students cope with stress and anxiety during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

During the workshop, David led the participants in breathing exercises and talked about the importance of developing physical, emotional and mental self-care strategies.

The Counseling Center has become aware of a range of different student concerns in the midst of the pandemic, said Allison Asarch, the center’s coordinator for outreach and consultation.

“We’re a society that really likes to know what’s going to happen,” Asarch said. “So feeling that sense of uncertainty, maybe a lack of control over the situation, can definitely be anxiety-provoking.”

[Read more: UMD counseling center braces for uptick in students seeking help during COVID-19 pandemic]

Many students are also struggling with logistical stressors, including loss of work or financial resources. Held via Zoom, the workshops are aimed at helping students develop strategies and skills to cope with these issues during the pandemic and cover topics such as managing stress and emotion.

“We want our students to be thinking about and taking care of their mental health,” Asarch said.

For Carly Holmes, a sophomore social studies education major at this university who attended a Monday workshop, the discussion about managing stress and emotion was incredibly helpful. Aside from giving her practical tips, Holmes said, the workshop also validated many of her ongoing emotions.

Holmes said she’s been sensitive to what the world is experiencing lately and how this news has made her react.

“I do have people in my family who are immunocompromised and a lot of older people, so it’s kind of a bit harder for me and I am a bit worried about their health and safety,” Holmes said.

Some of her main takeaways from Monday’s workshop include the importance of finding a creative outlet and maintaining physical activity to relieve stress, Holmes said.

She plans to use resources such as the University Recreation and Wellness website to inspire her to implement an exercise routine into her everyday life. Holmes also plans to turn to writing, saying that a creative outlet — along with the other strategies she learned through the workshop — will add something to her life, instead of simply distracting her from ongoing stress.

[Read more: This Maryland bill would create a task force to study mental health support in higher ed]

Since instruction moved online, there’s been an “initial” decrease in the number of students reaching out for counseling services, according to Chetan Joshi, the Counseling Center’s director. The same thing is happening at counseling centers at many colleges, he said, as it’s taking time for students to adjust to the online platform.

But in the next few weeks, Joshi said, the Counseling Center expects to see an increase in students reaching out to the center in need of services.

“We are carefully planning for a potential uptick, which will probably hit sometime next week,” Joshi said, adding that the Counseling Center wants to ensure that when the increase in demand happens, they are able to quickly connect patients with clinicians.

The Counseling Center will continue to hold the online workshops on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays over the next three weeks.

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