The Associated Students of Michigan State University (ASMSU) kicked off Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) on Monday, Nov. 2, with a Paws for MHAW. Following that first event, ASMSU encouraged students to attend other daily events throughout the week.
MWAH is a weeklong initiative that ASMSU started last year alongside many other student groups. ASMSU will continue to bring more ideas and foster greater collaboration throughout campus.
The goal of MHAW is to release the stigma around mental health, educate students on resources available to them and continue to advocate for increased mental health resources on campus, according to the ASMSU website.
Tuesday’s voting on Election Day and Wednesday’s Zoom sessions focused on mental health and virtual college stress. Thursday featured a Zoom session for talking about and sharing information about the LGBT Resource Center, while Friday’s Taking Care of Yourself as an International Student: OISS + ASMSU explored students’ anecdotes and resources with the stress that international students might be feeling.
Clinical social work master's student Rachel Ko co-hosted Friday’s event. Ko opened up the informal discussion for international students to speak about their MSU personal experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dialogue questions asked touched a range of topics like how international students are coping with being away from home for the first time, how professors are navigating virtual learning and the overall structure of online schooling.
Senior Hannah Wellman commented on the classroom structure. Because Wellman has all asynchronous classes, she finds her own time to complete her classwork.
“It’s really hard to find the time to actually sit down and do that week’s class and learn the material by myself because I’m not having anyone to teach to me, and so I’m having to do it independently," Wellman said. "So, that can be a kind of a big struggle."
Ko followed Wellman’s concern with her own opinion, saying that there might be an assumption with higher education that if everything is online, students might have more time at home to finish their assignments, projects and essays.
“That’s really not the case with not only domestic students but also international students,” Ko said. “They have to juggle the time difference, and we hear a lot of cases where international students are not being accommodated in a healthy way. They have to either sit in class or do that assignment in the middle of the night, and it’s very straining on their health, and that is why it is so particularly important this year that various MSU departments have beneficial and effective mental health resources for them.”
Ko said that some resources can feel difficult to access while the campus is remote.
“Some resources that seem so far out of reach are tutoring centers,” Ko said. “For me, the experience of being face to face with someone is just so great, and having more of a connection face to face just really helps when someone is tutoring me.”
MSU is still providing tutoring centers to support and supplement students’ academics this year. Ko strongly recommended that students speak with their advisers and let them know how this year has affected them so together, they can create a goal plan together to help the student’s college experience.
ASMSU President Abii-Tah Bih commented on how this academic year has impacted students’ wellness, especially seniors.
“As an international student, there is never certainty of where you’re going to be spending your time post-graduation whether you go back to your home country or you are here in the U.S.,” Bih said. “You want to spend your last year with your friends and the people that you have learned to love at MSU, but that’s not exactly possible now because of the circumstances, and I think that’s maybe just how this year has been a bummer to a lot of plans for seniors, but also to my own personal plans.”
Some international students are coping with stress by enjoying the simple pleasures like taking walks through campus, watching movies and staying in contact with friends to unwind. Other students find it challenging to nurture their minds and bodies to maintain their health properly.
During the discussion, Ko said it is important for people to listen to their bodies for cues about health.
“It’s really been a struggle to listen to our bodies and just give ourselves that nourishment that our body deserves,” Ko said. “Every habit is developed in a certain way, and so when you notice that you haven’t been eating healthy and you haven’t been sleeping enough and you’re just not relaxed enough throughout the day ... then take that time to listen to what your body is telling you. It’s kind of like it’s giving you a warning sign.”
Ko recommends resources like the Office of the University Ombudsperson, which helps students resolve conflicts or disputes within the university, and MSU Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS).
CAPS Connect is a brief consultation program that is confidential, completely free and available to all enrolled MSU students. CAPS Connect provides a place to talk about concerns where a professional will listen and offer a student support or give student suggestions about solutions and resources, according to the MSU CAPS website.
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Zhenshan (Zen) Zhong LLPC and counselor at MSU CAPS provided resources that CAPS offers and valuable information about coping in a healthy way when students and staff feel stressed or overwhelmed.
Zhong said that international students, especially those who are first-year students, can find it very difficult to ask for help when dealing with relationships, anxiety, depression or body image. CAPS will provide services for all these circumstances guided by a diverse staff.
“Our staff is very diverse in their background who speak many different languages,” Zhong said. “... We have different qualifications and licenses, including psychology, counseling, social workers and psychiatrists that cater to helping the needs of our students.”
In-person services are currently not being offered at this point because of the novel coronavirus but have transitioned to virtual services to maintain MSU students’ safety.
Click on the link below to learn more about CAPS:
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