The past year — with the pandemic, police violence and political unrest — hasn’t been easy for anyone, especially college students. This month is mental health awareness month, and UCI is spotlighting the resources available to assist students with their mental health. The most important thing to know? You’re not alone.
In this episode of the UCI Podcast, Dr. Marcelle Hayashida, the associate vice chancellor for Wellness, Health & Counseling Services at UCI, discusses the signs that indicate you might need a mental health checkup, the resources students can tap for help and why openness and honesty about your struggles can help both you and others.
In this episode:
Dr. Marcelle Hayashida, Associate Vice Chancellor for Wellness, Health & Counseling Services
Employee Assistance Program, including counseling services for faculty and staff
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255
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AARON ORLOWSKI, HOST
Students today are facing mental health challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and the financial stresses it has caused. At the same time, they’re confronting a host of other issues linked to our current political and social climate. It’s time for a check-up.
How is UCI helping students with their mental health as they return to campus? And how does honest conversation benefit us all?
From the University of California, Irvine, I’m Aaron Orlowski. And you’re listening to the UCI Podcast.
Today, I’m speaking with Marcelle Hayashida, who is the associate vice chancellor for Wellness, Health & Counseling Services at UCI.
Dr. Hayashida, thank you for joining me today on the UCI Podcast.
Hi, thank you so much for having me
This COVID-19 pandemic has not been easy for any of us and especially for college students, who might’ve been hoping for, or expecting, a more normal college experience. But that didn’t happen. So what are some of the national trends that you’re seeing around student mental health during this pandemic?
Around the entire country, we’ve really seen that students have been experiencing financial stressors, which we know are a known predictor of student mental health difficulty, and that’s been really significantly affected by the pandemic. There was a really interesting study that was put out last year, the National College Health Assessment. In the earlier part of the pandemic, two-thirds of students reported that their financial situation had become more stressful. Students’ living situation changed as a result of the pandemic. A lot of students had a lot of freedom to come and go when they were on campus and lost some of that when they went home. A high proportion of students have been reporting that their mental health has been negatively affected by the pandemic and that’s affected their academic performance as well.
Well, and you know, that’s not the only thing that students are coping with right now. There’s other challenges for mental health. People are seeing these police shootings on the news, and there’s some political violence and social unrest. What are some tips that you have for students who are coping with these distressing images and this distressing news that they’re seeing on social media?
Yeah, it’s really kind of been a one-two punch for us, for all of us students, staff, faculty alike. Anxiety, isolation, depression, coping with stress. And one of the things has also been concerns related to rallies or protests. The Jed Foundation did a survey as well in the fall of 2020 that (found that) 61 percent of students were extremely or very concerned about racial unrest in this country. But only 30 percent of students were coming into counseling. So I think one thing that we want to really emphasize for our students is to come in and talk to someone if you are experiencing some of these stressors from watching these very disturbing events on television and social media.
I think a lot of us have been glued to our televisions myself included. And I know that I’ve seen some distressing video, the same video, dozens of times. One thing that we can do is turn it off. I think it feels hard to do so. When you bear witness to some of his brutality and violence, sometimes you feel like you’re keeping the memory of these victims alive. It can fuel our social activism. It connects us, it motivates us to show up, to talk to people in our communities. But it’s difficult. There are some really brutal images on social media and on television. And it isn’t uncommon to find ourselves thinking about these images when we don’t want to. There’s this phenomenon known as vicarious trauma. When you’re traumatized yourself by seeing or witnessing trauma befall somebody else. So it’s okay to walk away to turn it off, to talk to a friend, take a walk, write about your feelings, create art, create poetry, do something else other than just sitting there and watching it because you think you have a responsibility to watch this over and over again.
And you mentioned that you would encourage students to come into the counseling center if they need to. May, this month, is mental health awareness month. So what is the campus planning around mental health awareness month?
Well, so we are, it’s still May. And so I think in the fall we’ll be physical. So when I say come in, I guess I just mean virtually come in. Do a virtual — we’re doing lots of tele-mental health appointments. That’s 100 percent what we’re doing. May is, again, as you said, mental health awareness month, and it’s so crucial to our wellbeing. And the counseling center is doing lots of different things this month. Whenever people are listening to this, some of the events may have passed, but they’re doing programming around college mental health in the time of coronavirus, that’s virtual. It’s called “Improve Your Snooze,” which is a collaboration with the UCI Center for Student Wellness & Health Promotion around sleep, and getting better sleep. Tuesday, May 18th is a virtual mental health screening day. So it’s a way to just get some feedback about whether your symptoms are perhaps cause for some additional intervention. And then there’s a really lovely program that’s called a virtual Art of Healing Showcase. It’s an art show and a panel discussion. And so we’re encouraging folks to submit original artwork that we’re going to showcase on May 20th. So lots of really wonderful things are happening.
Last thing is that we’re doing — we call it QPR training. It stands for question, persuade and refer. And that’s our suicide prevention training. And people can sign up for that throughout the academic year, but that’s also happening this month, so that you can take a training to figure out how to ask folks if they’re thinking about harming themselves, how to ask the right questions, how to persuade them to get help, and then how to refer them to the appropriate services.
Well, that is a full slate of activities and programming for students to take advantage of. Why is it important to take this time out of the year and have a whole month dedicated to mental health awareness?
Mental health is just so crucial to our wellbeing. It’s tied to our physical wellbeing, to our relationships, to our ability to work, to learn. One common symptom of depression is concentration problems. And so if you’re a student, the ability to concentrate, to learn, to remember, is so crucial. It affects our ability to parent, to function in society. And the truth is some mental health issues literally can become deadly. We know that some students, again, live with thoughts and desires to harm themselves. So lots of people live rich, full lives as they deal with mental health issues. But so many others suffer in silence. They think that they’re alone, that their issues are untreatable, that they should feel shame or embarrassment about how their brain works. So mental health awareness month reminds us to take our mental health as seriously as we take our physical health. It reminds us to engage in frank conversations about how we’re doing, how we can support each other. I believe that increasing awareness can help decrease stigma and let people know that there’s hope and there’s help.
Yeah. And as you’ve been saying, it’s a challenge sometimes to talk about these issues and to be open about it. And I think especially for people of different ages, they tend to view mental health differently. So, I guess two questions here. How do people of different ages, in your experience, talk differently about mental health issues? And then, secondly, what can we do to reduce that stigma that you mentioned about talking about mental health?
You know, I think that the generation of college students that we’re seeing right now, traditional age college students, call them Gen Z, or iGen. There’s an author, Jean Twenge, who has written a whole book about iGen. And they are much more open often with their parents. And I think they’re, in many ways, a lot more fluent in the language of feelings. They talk more openly about their relationships. Some of them, not all of them. We’ve seen people talk a lot more freely about, well, my therapist said this and they recommended I do this. And so I think the younger generation is a lot more fluent in — and open to — talking about their mental health. Taking mental health days. How important self-care is. I think these are things that older generations were not talking as openly about. I think it’s really been kind of cool to see social media influencers talking about what advice their own therapists have given them. That’s just now a more normal thing that you’ll see social media influencers posting on their sites about my therapist said this. There are whole podcasts about therapy now. So I think there are just some really beautiful efforts to normalize, help-seeking, which is really wonderful, in this younger generation.
You asked about stigma — what can we do to reduce some of the stigma of having a mental health issue. I think the first thing that we can really do is having conversations about it. Talking about your own anxieties, your own concerns, particularly regarding the pandemic and returning to work or returning to school. “Oh, you know, you too?” “Yes, me too.” It normalizes it. A lot of us walk around thinking that we’re the only people who are nervous about returning, or that that must be unusual or abnormal. And we find that when we just start talking about our own concerns, that it just breaks the ice, and everyone kind of relaxes and says, oh, me too.
And something else I would recommend is that — so many of us have conversations with people and we start a conversation with, “Hey, how are you doing?” The other person says, “Yeah, I’m good, fine.” And you move on to the reason for the call, right. I would recommend that we just take a breath and really listen to what’s on the other end. “How are you really doing?” And if someone says, “Yeah, not great.” Don’t just say, “Oh, well, that’s too bad. That’s really unfortunate. Well, the reason I called is …” Take a second, take a breath, listen. Maybe you make a recommendation about, “Oh, you know, I’ve been taking a walk. Would you like to take a walk with me?” When you hear that somebody is seeking out therapy, or that they’re taking a medication, or that this is a rough road in their lives and they’re trying to figure out what to do — praise them for their honesty, praise him for taking this step in their health journey. Don’t just gloss over the how-are-you-doing conversation. Try to make people understand and realize that it’s okay to not be okay — that we don’t have to be optimistic all the time. There’s this thing I’ve been reading about lately called “toxic optimism,” that we don’t always have to be excited and optimistic about everything. It’s okay, sometimes, to be struggling a little bit, to acknowledge that maybe today is not a great day, that somebody else’s day, maybe isn’t so great. And then brainstorm about what we can do to get some relief.
It sounds like one of the lessons there is that if someone asks me how I’m doing, and I’m thinking about whether I’m just going to say, good, and move on, or whether I’m going to say, you know what, actually today has been a crummy day. I’m not necessarily burdening the other person, and in a certain way, I’m actually — by sharing that my day was crummy for whatever reason — I’m actually giving them the freedom to be open about how they’re doing.
Absolutely. I think that’s just so important to — we think that opening up is going to burden somebody else, and in fact, it may just give them permission to also acknowledge that. Our lives online are often so carefully curated. That we pick the most flattering angles and that we want to just picture the most delicious food that we’re about to eat, and everything is beautiful and glossy, and we look thin and everything is wonderful. And I think those are some of the reasons that some of our young people really are suffering in some ways — that all that we tend to see, particularly now that we’ve had a whole year of really not being so close to each other — some of the only things that we see are these carefully curated images that make everyone feel like everyone else must be having a much better life than I am. And when you admit and you acknowledge, yeah, no, that’s angles and lighting, and today was actually really rough for me. I think it does give permission to then brainstorm about how we can make it better together.
As the campus prepares to fully reopen and students are getting ready to come back to campus, how is the Office of Wellness, Health & Counseling preparing for students to return?
So we are getting ready. A lot of the things that were really important during the pandemic, we’ll continue that. I’m happy to say that our Student Health Center, for example, pivoted really rapidly to telemedicine. And so you can speak with a psychiatrist or your physician from the comfort of your own home. Certainly some issues will require an in-person visit, but so many other things can be done from your dorm, from your apartment. So telemedicine will continue. Same thing for the UCI Counseling Center. Tele-mental health will continue. So people will be able to continue to get some of their counseling services wherever they are. We’re thinking about altering some of our spaces to get a little bit more room, in a waiting room, for example. Too, there may be some modest increases in staff. So I think we’re anticipating what we call an echo pandemic. So after the coronavirus pandemic, people are talking about this echo mental health pandemic. And so we want to make sure that we have sufficient amounts of mental health counselors, staff to make sure that we can accommodate what we believe will be an increase in services. The UCI Disability Services Center also reports in our cluster. I think we’re going to see a few more requests for disability accommodations as well. So we are preparing to absorb a few more requests for accommodations.
So I do think that we are talking a lot about well, for example — our counseling center did get some very particular continuing education around working with Black clients, around really making sure that we are serving our African-American student population with the latest techniques, and making sure our therapists are up on all of the ways in which our client’s identities really show up for them in treatment. So I’m looking forward to really welcoming all the students back. We’re able to address so many of the concerns that have arisen because of the pandemic, many of the concerns that have arisen because of our social climate, and then the normal, regular concerns are just part of being a college student as well.
Well, and those are all the resources that are affiliated with UCI and for students. But what about some of the more national resources, or other local resources, that are available? Where can people find out more information about what’s available there?
For students, there’s the UCI Center for Student Wellness & Health Promotion. I think sometimes people think, well, I’m not sleeping, so I better get a therapist. Or I’m not sure about my substance use, maybe I’m drinking too much, I’m not sure, I better go see a therapist. There are actually other resources on campus that can assess and talk with you about diet, sleep, about all kinds of health-promoting behaviors. So the Center for Student Wellness & Health Promotion is, I think, a phenomenal resource for our students. Faculty and staff, of course, our Employee Assistance Program services. We have actually an in-house psychologist as well, who can do very brief therapy with faculty and staff. Student health. We have social workers, some people don’t know that we do have social workers on campus as well, who can deal with other psychosocial stressors — food insecurity, housing insecurity, again, many of the things that have been disrupted due to the pandemic.
Of course, our own counseling center. Free. That’s the word that I want to use. You know, people sometimes think, well, I have to use my insurance, and it’ll show up, and my parents will get that bill. And the counseling center does not charge. There’s no bills that would go to a student. And they do relationship counseling, individual counseling, groups, after-hour support on the evenings and weekends. Some services will continue to be telephonic or video, but some will be in-person as well.
Nationally, I want to give people the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. And that’s a number that you can call again if you, or if someone you know, is contemplating suicide. Something that we often don’t like to talk about. We think that if we mention it, people will do it. But it’s a phenomenal national resource. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number can be found online, but it’s 1-800-273-8255.
It’s really important, again, to be frank and open about the fact that some people have those thoughts, as well. I’ve been really impressed by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). So they have a website with a lot of fantastic resources. And then a couple of other things that I like personally: There’s a great website called Therapy For Black Girls. I happen to be a Black woman. And so this is really important for Black women, again, to normalize help-seeking, to try to bust the myth of the strong Black woman, and that we can discuss mental health topics, and get help tailored to the needs of Black women. So Therapy For Black Girls is another kind of shout-out for a website and a resource that I like as well.
And we’ll make sure to include all these — the phone numbers and the links to these websites — in the show notes. So that’ll be on the news.uci.edu website as well. And you’ll be able to track down all that information, for our listeners. And so sometimes, someone really does need to seek out that therapist. What are some of the signs that a person should be paying attention to in themselves or in a friend that they really do need to find a therapist?
So there are a couple of categories of things that maybe you want to keep track of, maybe in a journal or diary. How’s your appetite? One sign of depression might actually be — obviously being sad and you’re tearful and crying — but appetite more than normal, or maybe your appetite is a little bit less than normal. Sometimes we react to grief in different ways. Sometimes some people eat more, some people eat less. Sleeping. Another really important thing to think about and track. Are you sleeping more than usual, or have you been sleeping less than usual? Another sign of depression sometimes. Obviously, we talked about being sad and being tearful and crying, maybe what’s one of the more obvious symptoms of depression.
But maybe the less obvious one is activities that you used to enjoy — do you still enjoy them or have you found that they’re just not giving you the kind of pleasure that they used to give you before? So playing music, or dancing, or spending time with friends, or watching movies — if the things that you used to really love, and that used to give you pleasure, suddenly don’t anymore, that could be another sign that might be good to get a checkup. In the same way that you would get a physical checkup, it might be good to get a social, emotional checkup. And then, as I said before, too, we were talking about trouble concentrating, another really important issue for students. That can be another symptom as well. That if you used to be able to kind of read a page and retain the information, and now somehow you’re reading pages two or three times, and you’re still not quite understanding what’s happening. Any disruption in concentration may be another sign to go get a checkup. I think many of us will say, “well, yeah, you know, today I feel sad or I cried yesterday.” But certainly anything that interferes with your ability to be social with your friends, anything that’s impairing your ability to work, — you find yourself not being able to get up and go to work, get up and attend class, things that are impairing your ability to work or to be social with people. It’s another thing to really get checked out.
Well, Dr. Hayashida, I hope that this conversation has helped with reducing some of that stigma that we talked about earlier, that people can be open about these issues and be free to seek that help and to be willing to go and do that, rather than sort of hiding it. I really hope that people are able to take that to heart.
So thank you for joining me today, Dr. Hayashida, on the UCI Podcast.
Thank you. It was a pleasure.