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Washtenaw United: Guiding college students through mental health issues in a post-pandemic world

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David Fair
/
89.1 WEMU
(From L to R) Erin Goldman and Rachel Barsch from Washtenaw Community College at the WEMU studio.

ABOUT RACHEL BARSCH:

Rachel Barsch has served in the WCC Student Life Department since 2006. Rachel plans and executes on-campus events for students, arranges off-campus trips, leads institutional events, and is the liaison when community partners host large-scale charitable events on-campus.

ABOUT ERIN GOLDMAN:

Erin Goldman is a clinical social worker, currently on staff at Washtenaw Community College, where she serves as a therapist and non-clinical case manager for students. Previously, Ms. Goldman was at the University of Michigan Department of Psychiatry, where she served as a lead clinical trainer for the US Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention. Erin has over 20 years’ experience as a therapist in the private and public sectors as a therapist, focusing on work with children, adolescents and young adults. Erin earned both her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and Master of Social Work Degree from the University of Michigan. Erin’s treatment specialties include mood and anxiety disorders, self-harm and suicidal ideation, stress management, sleep problems, and relationship issues.

Erin’s work in suicide prevention began in 2004, while a staff therapist at Loyola University of Chicago’s Student Wellness Center. Since then, she has presented locally and nationally on suicide and suicide prevention. Ms. Goldman was a key contributor to the development and implementation of the VA’s national Suicide Prevention Telehealth program. Erin has trained law enforcement officers, educators, medical providers, community members, mental health professionals, and higher education faculty and staff. She has served as chair and board member of local, statewide and national suicide prevention coalitions.

TRANSCRIPTION:

David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and today is World Mental Health Day. And the theme for the 2022 event is "Make Mental Health for All a Global Priority." I'm David Fair, and on this week's edition of Washtenaw United, we wanted to narrow the focus a bit and explore the challenges of mental health for college-aged students. As such, we've invited two representatives from Washtenaw Community College for a discussion. Erin Goldman is a licensed clinical social worker and serves as a counselor and non-clinical case manager at WCC. And thank you so much for making time for us today.

Erin Goldman: Glad to be here. Thank you.

David Fair: And Rachel Barsch is supervisor of student activities at WCC. And we appreciate your time as well.

Rachel Barsch: Thank you, David.

David Fair: And, Rachel, I want to kind of start with you today. How is World Mental Health Day being marked throughout the campus?

Rachel Barsch: Absolutely. Well, we have students involved in the Probility Run. And the Probility Run seeks to erase the stigma surrounding mental health. Students who participate are hashtagging things like Mind your mental health, self-care matters, and I race for Cam. We also have a Don't Bottle It Up campaign where students are going to hold water bottles and have quotes surrounding mental health and how they are committing to not bottling it in.

David Fair: Bottling it in. That seems to be something that the majority of us have done to some degree or another through the pandemic. It is certainly taking a toll on everyone in one way or another. Erin, how dramatically did your professional life shift when the world shut down in March of 2020 and you no longer had access to the students you counsel?

Erin Goldman: So, during the pandemic, when all of our services had to go to telehealth, it certainly made a big difference for us as clinicians, as therapists. We're used to the personal relationship that we build with between us and clients as being pretty primary in the therapy process. And so, to have that be done via telehealth, it just really changed things for all of us. And also, on a college campus, it's really important as mental health providers that we're available and accessible across the campus. So, people know us. They know our face. They know what we provide. And that's a lot harder to set that kind of culture when everything is remote.

David Fair: And two and a half years down the line, Erin, what COVID-related mental health issues are cropping up in the students you work with?

Erin Goldman: I think a lot of the same mental health struggles that they were having before but now have just been exacerbated and for a lot of different reasons. Certainly, depression and anxiety are still the most common. And those have just increased with the pandemic for a lot of different reasons, for a lot of different students. For some, it was being remote and being isolated from others. That made it really difficult. And adjusting from being in-person and learning in person to learning remotely is a struggle for many others. For many during the pandemic, there were so many other psychosocial stressors like financial, taking care of family, things like that, that really impacted their level of stress during the pandemic and thus their mental health as well.

David Fair: And, Rachel, she touched on something. You know, if you are working with students in student life and what is taking place activity-wise on campus has that sense of isolation....have you seen that manifest in changes in how the students are engaged?

Rachel Barsch: Absolutely. So, we actually had really good turnout for our virtual programs in 2020 to 2021. I'm kind of pleased by the offerings we had and how many students came last year when we returned to campus. When students would come to us, they would come in the door, and you could tell that their shoulders were up near their ears, and they would avert their eyes. And you sort of had to tease out of them of what they wanted. I mean, you came in our doors. You want to talk to us about something. You kind of have to tease them out. When pre-pandemic students would come in, and they wouldn't even be in the door before. They would be, like, asking you a question, and their energy level would be off the charts. Now it's a little bit lower. We're trying to figure things out. Last year, we didn't have as many students on campus. It does seem a little bit livelier this year. Do you agree, Erin?

Erin Goldman: Definitely, yeah.

Rachel Barsch: So, we're excited. Students have been attending events. There are still a little bit more shy and hesitant, and we haven't seen the same students dropping by like we have in previous years, but we're excited that we're going to get back to that.

David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and we're marking World Mental Health Day on Washtenaw United with Rachael Barsch and Erin Goldman from Washtenaw Community College. Rachel is supervisor of student activities, and Erin is a counselor. And when the pandemic took hold, WCC issued a series of mental health suggestions. It included be kind to yourself, take control where you where you can, and then go on a media diet, so you limit exposure to the negativity of the news of the day. Erin, is that still the advice you're offering to students, or has there been a shift since we've returned to whatever this new normal is in day-to-day life?

Erin Goldman: I think there's been a little bit of a shift in terms of people's need to stay away from media, though that still is there. But I think the intensity of it has lessened. And the ability for people to be around one another and experiencing different positive things has increased. So, I think the need to stay away from media has decreased a little bit. But certainly, the idea of self-care is just as important, if not more so.

David Fair: So, as we talk about being siloed on an individual level, sometimes departments in an institution become siloed as well. So, Rachel, what role do you see your Office of Student Activities taking in boosting mental health and supporting the efforts of the counseling department?

Rachel Barsch: That's a great question. I think we've always been collaborative at WCC, but I think during the pandemic, we reached out to other departments, and we said we need to be even more collaborative and offer students kind of the well-rounded experience. So, Erin and I and some of her colleagues, we do host some stress-free events for students. We host events like the identity wheel, so students can kind of get to know what makes them them. So, we are being definitely more collaborative than we were pre-pandemic, and I think that is one of the kind of the good repercussions of the pandemic in that we're like, "Hey, we can't do this alone. We need each other."

David Fair: You both, at one time or another, mentioned the word "stigma," and that really seems to be central to dealing with mental health well-being. How significant is stigma in 2022 on a college campus, Erin?

Erin Goldman: I think it depends on the college campus that you're on. I find that WCC is a pretty open culture in terms of, you know, there's a lot of messages around campus about if you see something, say something. If you think someone is in need, this is where you can help them go to get help. So, there are a lot of different ways where different departments, different faculty and staff, and even students themselves are pretty aware of mental health issues and struggles and where to go for help. And we continue to address that across the campus, I think, by and large, college campuses. You know, that age group right now is more open to talking about mental health than maybe older age groups. So, it's a little bit easier to create that culture with them.

David Fair: Nonetheless, some come from families and environments in which mental health is kind of hush-hush. And for those who might be hesitant, I know that WCC offers a well track app that can help students better understand their personal mental health. What help resources does that provide, Erin?

Erin Goldman: So, I'm really glad you brought that up. That's a really great sort of self-help venue that people can start to become familiar with some mental health topics and also a lot of self-care techniques. So, they can go into the app, they can use it to track their mood, to track their thoughts and behavior, and to develop some self-care strategies to help them minimize their level of distress.

David Fair: Washtenaw United continues on 89 one WEMU as we mark World Mental Health Day with Erin Goldman and Rachel Barsch from the Washtenaw Community College. The majority of us carry emotional baggage at one trauma or another, and it informs how we engage life. Obviously, the pandemic exacerbated how we deal with our past, present, and future. We've spent our time together focused on students, but these issues are present in the faculty and staff as well. On a personal level, Rachel, did the pandemic bring anything to the fore for you that you've had to more assertively deal with?

Rachel Barsch: Well, I've been called the Energizer Bunny of WCC before. I have a lot of energy. I've been doing this a long time, so I kind of felt like I know what I'm doing and students love to come to our events. I had to take a big mental pause when we were told to go home for two weeks, and I had to kind of process that. I think I'm usually a quick processor and kind of move things along. I'm someone who gets things done, but I had to step back for a little bit and say "What's happening in this world?" And I was afraid for my kids and the students. So, I think really engaging more in self-care myself helps me to be a better leader for students, and I'm a big advocate for self-care. I love to run. I love to watch The Office. I love to joke around.

David Fair: And, Erin, kind of along the same lines, as a counselor, you have to be particularly conscious of your own mental health in order to best serve the campus community. How have you addressed the added stressors to keep yourself in that position of effective service?

Erin Goldman: Well, I think I've, like Rachel was saying, paid even more attention to my self-care activities. And, you know, like a lot of faculty and staff on campuses, I have kids at home who, during the pandemic, were also having to school at home and all of that. So, there were a lot of extra factors going on that were pulling on my resources. So, I really had to kind of reach out and think about what kinds of activities are important for me to keep myself going, to get support for myself, to be physically active, to get enough sleep, all of those kinds of things. I feel like I had to put a lot of extra attention to during those years.

David Fair: Well, great advice for one and all. And I'd like to thank both of you for making time to mark World Mental Health Day with us.

Erin Goldman: Thank you so much.

Rachel Barsch: Thank you, David.

David Fair: That is Erin Goldman, a licensed clinical social worker serving as counselor and non-clinical case manager at Washtenaw Community College, and her colleague Rachel Barsch, who is WCC supervisor of student activities. For more information on World Mental Health Day and the work being done at WCC, visit our website at WEMU dot org. Washtenaw United is produced in partnership with the United Way of Washtenaw County, and we bring it to you every Monday. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.

RESOURCES:

Washtenaw Community College

Jed Foundation

NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness)

Suicide Prevention Resource Center

WEMU has partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw County to explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'

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Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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