In quarantine, the inability to see friends or loved ones, major lifestyle changes and an uncertain future faces everyone, and mental health is declining because of it. With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, JMU organizations such as Active Minds and the Counseling Center are trying to boost student morale and destigmatize mental health.
Psychologist and outreach coordinator Magali Laitem said the Counseling Center is offering in-person appointments to students who’ve remained in Harrisonburg if they are experiencing a mental health emergency. For all other needs, students can set up a consultation by phone, and the center offers resources such as Therapy Assistance Online. Laitem said the Counseling Center has been granted three new positions to meet increasing demands for services in the past year.
“The JMU community as a whole has made it clear that they prioritize mental health by the support they have provided the Counseling Center,” Laitem said. “Although the Counseling Center is the primary mental health resource on campus, addressing mental health issues effectively requires a comprehensive community response.”
JMU Active Minds is a chapter of a national organization that focuses on mental health awareness and encourages open conversations about it. JMU alumna Abby Richter (’20) said Active Minds has open discussions about mental health, participates in the “Walk for Hope,” which is a walk for suicide prevention, and participates in activities each year to improve mental health around JMU, such as putting post-it-notes around campus with positive sayings on them or by writing encouraging phrases on the sidewalks.
Because of the coronavirus, regular meetings and activities have been disrupted. Hannah Black, a junior kinesiology major and vice president of Active Minds, said the club is trying to keep a sense of normalcy by having Zoom meetings and staying active on its social media.
“A lot of people have been sharing their stories during this time, and I think this occasion can also inspire people to evaluate their own mental health,” Black said. “I think Mental Health Awareness Month is inspiring and can be helpful for a lot of people to participate in, as well as witness what is shared during this time.”
Richter said she’s seen a number of articles published about mental health declining during the pandemic. Because it’s so prevalent right now, organizations like Active Minds and the Counseling Center are trying to reduce the stigma toward it.
“I think that it’s important to reduce the stigma towards mental health because it’s something that so many people deal within their lifetime,” Richter said. “There’s nothing wrong with struggling or feeling out of control with your emotions. I think that when there is stigma around mental health, people are quicker to dismiss it or push it off.”
Laitem said there’d be more support from loved ones if the stigma toward mental health was gone. If mental health wasn’t taboo, those who need additional support would feel less shame and seek the help they need.
“I strongly believe that accessing services earlier on in the process, as well as not having to feel shame or hide, this could lead to better and longer-lasting outcomes,” Laitem said.
Self-care is something both the Counseling Center and Active Minds are promoting during this time. Black said it’s important not to isolate oneself and to remain in touch with friends and loved ones. Both Laitem and Richter said that asking for help when necessary, maintaining a routine and staying active are great ways to take care of oneself.
“I think quarantine can leave people alone with their thoughts more, which can be difficult depending on your mental health state,” Black said. “I think it’s also good to relax and know it’s okay not to always be productive during this time. Lastly, self-care also involves advocating for yourself, so I think it is essential not to hesitate to reach out for help right now, and always.”
Contact Morgan Vuknic at email@example.com. For more on the culture, arts, and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.