Campus wellness initiatives provide mental health support during distance learning

In the midst of a socially-distanced school year—and at a time when students have fewer opportunities to form in-person connections with peers—wellness has increasingly become a priority. Given the absence of direct social interactions, the Wellness Center staff, the Student Executive Council (SEC) and the Reach Out, Care, Know (ROCK) club have adopted new ways to promote wellness for students learning online.

The virtual Wellness Center

During previous school years, many students were able to go to the Wellness Center if they felt stressed or needed someone to talk to. The center provided a space where students could unwind from other academic environments, or reach out to someone for help. Now, a virtual website for the Wellness Center hopes to fulfill those same needs. 

Wellness Outreach Specialist Rossana Castillo has been heavily involved in the implementation of the virtual Wellness Center. Castillo noted the difficulties of promoting the center during distance learning. “Now that we are virtual, while I really love being able to be online and offer drop-in hours, it may be a little harder for people to know that we are here, present and open to continuing offering support,” she said.

The Wellness staff is trying to be flexible to accommodate students’ schedules. “We have created drop-in hours that are somewhat close to lunch hours so students do not [have to] miss class if they need to reach out for support,” Castillo said.

Still, Castillo recognized that the virtual Wellness Center cannot replace the in-person, day-to-day interactions taken for granted before social distancing regulations. “It’s definitely not the same as seeing all our students in person and being able to say hi and offer them some warm tea,” she said. 

Student Executive Council Events

The Student Executive Council (SEC) is also heavily involved in promoting student wellness; members have been tasked with reaching out to peers and planning events that discuss and offer resources about mental health. 

Wellness Commissioner Kate Williams has worked to transfer SEC’s mental health initiatives onto a virtual format. “This week we are starting Mindful Mondays and Wellness Wednesdays, which will be a post each Monday and each Wednesday on the SEC Instagram,” she said. “[These will be] showing something that you can do on Mondays to be mindful and something on Wednesday that can help your wellness.”

In the future, Williams plans to collaborate with other wellness groups around campus to create bigger events for students. “We will be working with the Wellness Center to do a biannual Virtual Wellness Fair, where different organizations from around the community come together so students can [access] resources, and learn more about them,” she said. 

ROCK Club Initiatives

ROCK, the biggest mental health awareness club at Gunn, has continued despite school closures and is actively reaching out to the student body, according to ROCK advisor Paul Dunlap. Last spring, ROCK painted rocks and put messages such as “Nurses Rock” on them, delivering the rocks to frontline workers and emergency responders. Members also made Mother’s Day cards and took the cards to nursing care facilities for mothers who wouldn’t get to see their families due to COVID-19. 

This semester, ROCK is continuing its efforts. “[ROCK members] are planning various things this year, such as letters to freshmen, testimonials, socially distanced movies, self-care bags, compliment projects and other things,” Dunlap said. 

Dunlap stressed the importance of self-care when it comes to wellness. “The first step in promoting wellness in others is to attend to our own wellness,” he said. “We need to think of mental health as we do physical health – something that we need to take care of or it weakens. Retraining our own brains to pay attention to what we are thankful for is an easy starting place.” 

Williams, for her part, recognized that it can be difficult for students to reach out during the pandemic. “During this time, you can feel very alone, so we are trying to promote [the idea] that you are not alone and that there are people who are here to help and support you,” she said.