7 Tips for Schools to Promote Mental Health Amid Pandemic
Updated: Apr 21, 2020
How university mental health services are supporting their students and staff during this stressful time.
Are you doing enough to address the stress, fear or anxiety that Covid-19 has been bringing to your university’s community?
The pandemic could have a profound effect on people's mental health, according to a paper recently published in The Lancet Psychiatry. "Increased social isolation, loneliness, health anxiety, stress and an economic downturn are a perfect storm to harm people's mental health and wellbeing," said Prof Rory O'Connor, one of the paper's authors, from the University of Glasgow.
Here is a list of strategies and examples you can consider for your institution:
#1. Compile and make easily accessible credible information and advice
Many schools have special sections on their webpages dedicated to mental help, and some of them are really thorough, including both a wide range of internal and external resources. The external resources most often include help from the healthcare institutions in the country where the school is based. For instance, British universities commonly refer to official advice and information from the NHS Covid-19 website and Public Health England.
#2. Provide tips in the different languages of your community
Many schools offer tips on how to preserve mental health, focusing on maintaining a routine, mindful awareness practices, exercise and physical activity, balanced nutrition, social media consumption, etc. Some even offer Covid-19 advice in different languages to support their international community.
#3. Communicate intensively
Ensure a steady communication flow that keeps the community connected and informed of all developments. It is important to use all official communication channels for students, faculty and administration. Interactive video conferencing is very impactful and invaluable in times of isolation.
#4. Provide specific information and details
Be informative and specific in your communication. Provide stats and facts, but also tell stories and keep the message in perspective and in the context of your institutional culture.
#5. Ensure online advice from the university’s medical and counselling centres
It is also worth noting that although campuses are closed, the medical centres at some schools remain open and accessible to ensure the physical health and emotional well-being of students, faculty and staff. Some are relying on telehealth appointments.
#6. Conduct webinars
Webinars are also used as a tool to promote mental wellbeing. Harvard has launched a webinar series entitled: Regulating emotions & building resiliency in the face of a pandemic. The series was created to support the students and staff of the Harvard Medical School community, but the tips and strategies discussed there are useful to anyone struggling with the emotional burden of the crisis. The webinars are hosted by Dr. Luana Marques, an Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School's Department of Psychiatry and clinical researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital who specialises in treating anxiety and stress disorders. Participants take part in role plays and hypothetical scenarios as they develop the skills to manage their emotions.
#7. Initiate interactive workshops
Interactive online workshops are also deployed by some schools. Haas School of Business, University of California Berkeley (US) is offering mental health workshops via Zoom, teaching students how to practice mindfulness or provide them with coping strategies to manage anxiety and promote wellness.
Even before the pandemic, many schools such as the University of Nottingham (UK) had been offering mental health wellbeing workshops for students feeling the emotional strain from academic requirements.