Managing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on MUSC students has been compared to taking turns on a mental health roller coaster that can lead to increased feelings of anxiety, uncertainty, and fear as well as feelings of depression, unworthiness, and sadness. In response, students, faculty, and staff have worked together to provide a more supportive academic experience.
In 2020, with the campus closed to students and all classes immediately switching to online learning, the problems were just beginning. Not only have students struggled with the uncertainty and changing public health guidelines associated with the coronavirus, many first- and second-year students have expressed that they are experiencing home confinement, personal isolation, and a loss of interpersonal contact and interaction with their professors, mentors, and peers – shortening students’ expectations and school experiences.
Throughout this time, it has been a valuable resource that has been readily available to students MUSC’s Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS), An on-campus program that provides students with a variety of high-quality, confidential, evidence-based, and supportive mental health services.
Gigi Smith, Ph.D., RN, Associate Dean for Educational Innovation and Student Life, supports CAPS’s mission to help all MUSC students, especially during the pandemic.
“The pandemic came unexpectedly for all of us,” Smith said. “We made a pledge to students when they were accepted into MUSC that we would provide the services and resources they needed to become the people they wanted to be. That’s what we do.”
For more than two decades, the CAPS team has provided MUSC students with high-quality problem-focused mental health services, offering a variety of evidence-based therapies. The team is made up of 14 mental health professionals, including a licensed clinical psychologist, professional counselors, doctoral-level psychiatric nurse practitioners, attending psychiatrists, part-time psychiatric residents and support staff to assist students at every step of their healthcare educational journey. . These professionals are willing to assess and treat anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and other mental health concerns and crises. Since the beginnings of the pandemic, they have also managed other issues, such as the struggles of distance learning, quarantine, home confinement, fear of contracting COVID-19, social isolation and grief.
Students can self-refer or they can be referred by an employee or faculty member. Students begin with an initial assessment with the CAPS team provider and work with the provider to develop a comprehensive treatment plan in the context of a treatment alliance. CAPS provides individual mental health services; Couples counseling; administering psychiatric medications for problems such as anxiety, depression, mood and eating disorders, and insomnia; Substance abuse treatment, suicide prevention and other consultations. Students work with advisors from diverse backgrounds. Early in 2021, CAPS expanded its team to include doctoral-level psychiatric nurse practitioners, and now provides extended hours for student appointments.
“Our goal has always been to provide a customized approach to taking care of each individual based on specific specific needs. It is not a one-size-fits-all approach” Alice Lipt, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical Psychiatrist and Director. “Not every student needs mental health care, but it is a useful resource for many of our students. Mental health services at MUSC, as at other colleges and institutions in the country, have been tested especially during the pandemic. Our team has risen to the occasion and used confidential resources based on the web to cater to students, running ‘a dime’ and working from home, in lockers and on kitchen tables to provide students with uninterrupted professional mental health services. I am exceptionally proud of the work, resilience and dedication of this team.”
According to Libet, the team responded to more than 1,195 unique students, submitting 8,692 appointments during the pandemic, from Spring 2020 to today.
Prioritizing the mental health of students
At MUSC and on campuses across the country, student services leaders like Smith and Litt, along with colleges and college staff, have been reviewing student mental health policies and practices and hosting frank discussions about the growing mental health crisis sparked by the pandemic. They searched for solutions that would address students’ well-being as much as their learning and academic success. According to Libet, health care student interns will one day be an important part of their patients’ health and wellness journeys. For this reason, it is essential that students learn to prioritize their physical and mental health.
CAPS-licensed professional counselor Amy Horner and colleagues at CAPS also emphasized the value of providing mental health services at the campus level and reducing the stigma that can sometimes make students reluctant to seek treatment.
In addition to issues related to the pandemic, such as isolation and vaccine efficacy, the team also addressed student issues such as self-doubt and impostor syndrome — feeling unworthy or not having the knowledge or skills to work in the profession they are training for.
“Student mental health services are in demand today more than ever. With MUSC’s level of high caliber students studying to become healthcare professionals, students struggle to learn about their own self-care and being human. They say, ‘How can I help my patients if I don’t I can help myself.” It’s very important to realize that helpers can also need help. “Mental health problems don’t discriminate,” Horner said.
The CAPS team responds to self-referrals by students as well as referrals from college faculty, administrators, teachers, staff, and fellow students if they feel the student is in distress. The CAPS team also works closely with the Campus Behavioral Support and Intervention Team, a group made up of faculty representatives from each college who work to identify and assist students in distress and intervene when needed to help maintain a safe campus for all. They receive reports of students in distress and encourage others to recognize, respond, refer and report.
CAPS is an especially valuable service for colleges and their student affairs teams that provide assistance to their students. Since the spring of 2020, there has been a marked increase in student appointments and counseling, particularly due to the pandemic and worrying global events.
Kathy Worrall, PharmD, Associate Dean of Admissions and Student Affairs at the College of Pharmacy, he supervises four group classes – approximately 350 pharmacy students – and is well aware of the stress that pharmacy students have experienced during the pandemic, from running challenging course work while transitioning to distance learning to dealing with challenges During clinical sessions and managing patient concerns and pandemic anxiety.
“The students’ mental health issues seemed to have exploded beyond the usual issues, especially early and after the COVID pandemic. The students came forward with their needs, and it was easy to refer them to the CAPS team for help and support. CAPS did a great job of pivoting to be able to deliver Their services default to students who need to meet with them. “All of our students were able to get the support they needed at the time,” Worrall said.
She was most impressed with CAPS’s proactive approach during the pandemic as leaders created more programs that addressed self-care topics around mental health and mindfulness practices and coping strategies and exercises, as well as providing professional wellness resources that students could access and practice 24/7.
Another useful tool provided by CAPS and the Behavioral Support and Intervention Team is the Red Folder – an icon on the university’s home page that provides information to faculty, staff, and students regarding behaviors and symptoms of concern and provides a list of resources to help. This tool urges the MUSC community to “See something. Say something. Do something,” and the page offers information, resources, appropriate referrals, and campus phone numbers to help users.
Perhaps one of the toughest times during the pandemic, according to Worrall, was when students returned to class last fall. CAPS responded with educational presentations on time management, stress reduction, sleep disorders and other valuable topics.
“The goals of the university and our college for students are to focus on self-care and well-being and scheduling time to manage and prioritize that,” Worrall said. “We all hope that now that the students have been through a year of moving back into in-person activities, we will see improvements. I hope that with all of these things in place, our students are now in a better place today to move forward.”
Over the summer, CAPS team members met with Worrall and other university leaders to assess student needs and get their feedback. In August, the team re-applied in person at New Student Orientations for all six colleges. The team now plans to continue its monthly educational presentations on various topics, including a licensed therapy dog — a sail animal named Atlas, that belongs to Akiya Practitioner Psychiatric Nurse Harold, DNP — at some upcoming CAPS events.
“Of course, CAPS cannot succeed without the support of Smith and the president’s office,” said Horner, a CAPS advisor. “They helped us identify and assess our needs, expand services and recruit our needed practitioners. All of this was a great recognition of the importance of the mental health of our students and supportive of our goal of providing excellent services to MUSC students.”
For information, visit MUSC’s caps Or call 843-792-4930.
MUSC Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) Team
Alice Lipt, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and licensed director; Chloe Konnick, MS, licensed professional counselor; Amy Horner, MA, licensed professional counselor; Akiya Harold, DNP, psychiatric nurse practitioner; Donna Lee Williams, DNP, psychiatric nurse practitioner; Brittney Irby, MD, specializing in psychiatry and behavioral sciences; Brett Ziegler, MD, psychiatry and behavioral sciences, therapist; Ally Grimes, MD, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Fellow; Deepa Luca, MD, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Fellow; Ethan Wall, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Fellow; Samuel Howard, MD, psychiatry and behavioral sciences, resident; Cordy McGill Scarlett, MD, psychiatry and behavioral sciences, resident; Jack Edelson, MD, psychiatry and behavioral sciences, resident; Deborah Lynn, MD, psychiatry and behavioral sciences, resident and Damien Millett, RN
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