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September 22, 2020

Thriving in Adverse Climates: A Wellness and Mental Health Virtual Workshop for Students

This blog post is part of a series of recordings for the Student Success webinars College Promise will be holding throughout September 2020. Last week, College Promise held a virtual panel discussion offering students actionable advice on maintaining both physical and mental health as the school year ramps up.

Evan Weissman, Senior Associate in Postsecondary Education Policy at MDRC, interviewed Halla Haobsh, a current college student and educator for the Peer Health Exchange. Their one-on-one conversation focused on the mental health challenges that students face and tips students can implement to prioritize personal wellness:

COVID-19 has clearly spotlighted a lot of health considerations and behavior changes around limiting the spread of the disease, but there are other areas of health that can be impacted by going to college or even simply navigating life during a global pandemic. Can you talk about some of the most important things for students to be mindful of?

Halla shared that the pandemic has put a spotlight on all aspects of her health - mental, physical, social and emotional. “I think people are realizing how important social and mental health is more than ever.” She noted that if one area of our lives is off center, it can affect other aspects as well. Halla talked about keeping “personal check marks” to help her keep track of her own health and wellness. She encouraged others to write down their progress and goals to get organized around physical, mental and social health.

Additionally, Halla advised that we should be mindful of others’ experiences, too. “If a friend is feeling down, don’t just say ‘sorry’, instead ask ‘how can I help?’”.

With many schools moving to a virtual format or limiting their on-campus resources and activities, where are some places students should look for health and wellness support as they navigate the upcoming college year?

As a current college student, Halla related to this and shared her own experience navigating on-campus resources. Students may not realize how many resources there are until they start looking. She encouraged students to ask their advisors and professors for advice and connections to school related resources or search your school website. She also recommended students serve as their own advocates and get creative and proactive about their specific needs.

What’s the best way to get to get through and talk to someone about your mental health if you’re a shy person?

Evan related to this question, and suggested that students try to take small steps to put themselves out there. “As a shy person myself, I always try to force myself to take things up by one level.” When a student is feeling low and doesn’t want to go into an office and talk to someone about how they’re feeling, he recommended perhaps instead writing one email to someone who might be able to help. Students might also practice asking for help, including practicing in front of the mirror.

Despite the current pandemic, what can students do today (in the short term) to help keep a forward-thinking perspective and set up good habits and maintain both mental and physical health as they plan their next steps?

Halla and Evan agreed that it is important for students to identify what works best for them to help destress. Some suggestions included journaling, talking to a friend, meditating, taking a long (or short!) walk, or reaching out to someone to get advice on other ideas. They also encouraged students to use social media to connect positively by searching #mentalhealth or similar hashtags through Instagram, TikTok or other platforms.

Halla advised, “Find what works for you... Just because you’re not physically with someone, doesn’t mean you can’t connect while keeping socially distant.”


If you are struggling, and need to talk to someone immediately, you can reach out to:

  • A Crisis Counselor by texting HOME to 741741 or messaging the Crisis Text Line on Facebook Messenger.
  • The national Disaster Distress Helpline -- call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 - - for 24/7 emotional support and, if you have any medical concerns, you can speak to a trusted healthcare provider.
  • The National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), for confidential, free, 24/7 referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations.
  • The COVID-19 Emotional Support Hotline is staffed by volunteer therapy professionals, who answered Gov. Cuomo’s call to action. You can make a free phone appointment at 1-844- 863-9314.

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