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The following communication was sent to Honors Carolina students on Nov. 20 from Mitch Prinstein, John Van Seters Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience and assistant dean of Honors Carolina.

Dear Students,

Carolina recently conducted a campus-wide survey to check in on your needs and experiences during the Fall semester.  A remarkably high proportion of students (over 63% of those who responded) reported hardships pertaining to mental health.  Over 20% reported feeling overwhelmed by violence towards BIPOC communities.  This has been an extraordinarily stressful semester, and we are sending this note to everyone to express our desire to help in any way we can, to convey our empathy for so many stressors you have endured, and to express our admiration of your resilience.

This email has many resources for you to keep handy as you recover over the winter break and we continue to deal with life stress.  First, please know that the COVID-19 Student Care Hub is a virtual space comprised of a comprehensive website rich with up-to-date FAQs and resources, and support teams designed to help students navigate their new reality by addressing concerns and providing support. By visiting keeplearning.unc.edu, students can find answers to most questions, apply for financial assistance through the Carolina Impact Fund, and seek support for their specific needs.   Additional wellness info for undergraduate  and graduate and professional students also is available.  And of course, CAPS is available to all students at https://caps.unc.edu/; with telehealth and inter-state health service requirements relaxed during COVID, you can feel free to check in with them to get the help you need no matter where you are.  Videos to relieve stress through self-massage also are available here: https://massagekit.web.unc.edu/.

Second, please do keep these resources available if you feel you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
    • 24/7 support for you or someone you know in crisis by trained crisis counselors (800-273-TALK or 800-273-8255 or text “HOME” to 741741)
  • National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI)
    • A free hotline (10AM – 6PM ET) to provide information, resources, and referrals to those needing mental health services. NAMI will typically return all phone calls within 48 hours (800-950-NAMI or 800-950-6264)
    • Crisis Text Line: Text “NAMI” to 741741 to speak with a trained crisis counselor available 24/7
    • Warmline Directory offers non-crisis, emotional and preventative care support over the phone. Resources are offered by state but many resources also take out-of-state phone calls.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA)
    • Operates a 24-hour helpline (800-662-HELP or 800-662-6264) for individuals dealing with mental health issues and a SAMHSA specialist can provide you with resources and names of mental health professionals in your area based on your presenting concerns.
  • The Trevor Project
    • Offers 24/7 support for LGBTQ young people in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a judgment-free place to talk.
    • Call (1-866-488-7386), chat online or text (“START” to 678678).

Third, many organizations have great guides for reducing stress, managing anxiety, and increasing meaningful social connections during COVID-19. Below are recommended guides from reputable organizations:

Based on a review of the above guides, here are some common recommendations to reduce anxiety and stress during COVID-19:

  • Maintain a routine and create a schedule
    • Separate weekday and weekend routines
  • Limit time spent in bed to only obtaining restful sleep
    • See CDC tips for good sleep hygiene here
  • Stay hydrated
  • Exercise
    • UNC offers free fitness classes through Facebook Live
    • YouTube is full of free classes, give one a try and share favorites with friends or post to social media to challenge your social circle and get recommendations
    • Local fitness centers offer live virtual classes for a reduced fee or a pay-what-you-can scale. This is a great way to connect with a group in your community and exercise while social distancing.
  • Practice relaxation and mindfulness
    • Engaging in mindfulness is a way of practicing awareness that can reduce stress. Mindfulness involves focusing your attention on the present moment and accepting the present without judgment. See below for apps or checkout the Mayo Clinic guide for mindfulness.
    • Grounding techniques can reduce anxiety if you are feeling overwhelmed
  • Eat healthy and nutritious foods
  • Engage in goal-directed behavior
    • Completion of goals you set for yourself have positive effects on mood and self-esteem, even simple ones
    • Write down goals that are tangible and measurable with a deadline
  • Reach out to others
    • Offer and ask for help of those in your social circle. Now is a great time to catch up with social contacts or to reach out to more isolated members (e.g., the elderly, those with chronic health conditions)
    • Plan virtual hang-outs, dinners, coffee breaks, and walks
    • Watch a movie together through Netflix and an extension for Google Chrome
    • Play a game together online (Jackbox TVHouseparty Games, and Codenames are just a couple of games available in an online format)
  • Journal about your experiences
    • Writing down your experiences during COVID-19 may help you identify triggers for stress (e.g., watching the news) and identify sources of positive emotions (e.g., reaching out to a friend)
  • Get outside
    • Fresh air can reduce stress and seeing others in your community (from a safe distance) can decrease feelings of loneliness.
  • Find activities you enjoy
    • Many libraries offer free audiobooks or have virtual loan programs to download and read books for free
  • Limit media exposure
    • While staying informed is important, too much media can increase stress and anxiety. Setting limits on how much time or when you will consume news or accessing the news through readable sources can decrease feeling overwhelmed.

Fourth, if you are looking for more strategies to help yourself, there are also a number of evidence-based apps that are proven to help improve outcomes.

  • This Way Up
    • Web-based program that provides resources for coping with symptoms of anxiety and depression. This is a very well-researched approach with over 25 peer-reviewed publications demonstrating improvements in anxiety and mood symptoms.
  • Headspace
    • An app that provides guided meditation and mindfulness strategies to reduce stress and increase coping strategies. Headspace also includes resources for improving sleep, work and productivity, physical health, and student-specific resources.
  • Virtual Hope Box
    • An app researched and provided by the Veteran’s Administration (one of the nation’s leading evidence-based app organizations) which includes progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, and meditation activities
  • Woebot
    • An artificial intelligence-powered chatbot that guides users through management of distressing thoughts and feelings using evidence-based principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
  • SuperBetter
    • Video-game style app that helps users build resilience to address real-life concerns including physical health, emotional health, and social connection.
  • Nod
    • An app designed to help college students connect during times of crisis that uses evidence-based strategies to improve resilience. Nod provides social connection tips and tools to help students maintain meaningful connections.
  • Interested in an app not listed here?
    • Psyber Guide is a non-profit organization directed by leaders in the field of clinical psychology. This website provides reviews of mental health apps based on credibility, user experience, and transparency.

Last, it is perfectly understandable if you want to work with a trained mental health professional to feel better at this time.  If CAPS is not available, many mental health providers now offer secure and confidential telehealth options.  Here are some steps to find the right provider for you:

1) Find a provider that accepts your insurance:
  • Most insurance companies include a searchable directory of providers that are “in-network” (i.e., you pay a copay)
    • For Blue Cross Blue Shield:
    • https://provider.bcbs.com/
    • Select your plan
    • Search for “mental health counseling” and a list of providers will populate. You can filter results by location, language, and gender preferences.
2) Cross-check providers with local professional organizations. Membership in professional organizations is optional, but often these mental health providers are committed to staying up-to-date with evidence-based practices. Many of these professional organization websites have searchable directories of providers.

3) Types of mental health providers

  • There are many different types of mental health providers that can provide mental health services if they have licensure and/or certification in the state in which they practice.
  • The National Alliance on Mental Health has an excellent description of different types of providers to help you decide the right fit for your needs

Carolina is here for you to succeed, not just academically, but with all of the challenges that you experience during your time here with us.  Please do let us know how we can be most helpful to you.  Have a restful, safe, and healthy break.

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