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Brian Hogan's journey to becoming a teaching professor in the College of Arts and Science's chemistry department has been anything but a straight path. But through perseverance and an ask for help, the Tar Heel found a way to quiet the doubt that lingered in the back of his mind.

By John Roberts, University Communications, Monday, September 26th, 2022 | Original Post

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When Brian Hogan started his undergraduate studies, he thought he had his future as a scientist all figured out.

That feeling lasted until his first chemistry test, which he promptly failed.

“I felt like, ‘Well, I guess I’m done. I guess I’m not going to be a science major,” Hogan said. “Mentally, I started to doubt myself. I started to doubt that I could even do it.”

That doubt never really went away for Hogan. Even as he earned his Ph.D. in chemistry and landed a position as a teaching professor in the College of Arts and Science’s chemistry department, those thoughts of doubt and imposter syndrome lingered. It wasn’t until he asked for help and began working with mental health professionals that he turned a corner.

“It’s hard to change the way that you view the world when you’ve spent your whole adult life being really negative,” he said. “Once I changed the way that I looked at serving other people and being a teacher and being a mentor, I began to feel, ‘This is what makes me feel better about myself. It fills my soul.’ I’m lucky that I get to go to college every day for the rest of my life and be around really wonderful students as a college professor, that I can play some small part in their lives, and I get to do it over and over and over again, which is really rewarding.”

He now aims to help his students find joy in their lives.

“It’s OK if you don’t feel like your life is going in this perfect straight line,” Hogan said. “I’ve gotten to a point in my life where everything is going pretty well, but it wasn’t always easy and my path to get there was really circuitous, but I did persevere. I was able to get through it, and maybe they will find a little bit of solace in this story. I’ve been there. It turned out OK.”

Note: This message was sent to campus April 21, 2022, from Student Affairs Vice Chancellor Amy Johnson and Professor and Department of Psychiatry Chair Samantha Meltzer-Brody.

At the November 2021 UNC-Chapel Hill Mental Health Summit, we announced plans to host a book-end event to our mental health programming for the academic year with a Mental Health Colloquium in May 2022. The half-day event was intended as a follow up discussion on the focus areas of crisis services, prevention, and the culture of care and compassion on campus.

With the rapidly waning days of the semester, competing commitments, and pressing deadlines that come with this time of year, we are mindful that a late-spring Colloquium may not be the best timing. As a result, we have decided to postpone our plans for the half-day Colloquium until the fall, which we will use to kick off our Carolina Mental Health Seminar Series for Academic Year 22-23. Details will be posted soon at care.unc.edu.

In its place this month, we’ll instead host a brief “Carolina Mental Health Update” on April 28, from noon to 1:30. At this virtual event we will:

  • Revisit themes from the fall semester mental health summit.
  • Recap current efforts toward supporting campus mental health and well-being.
  • Consider the topics for next year’s Carolina Mental Health Seminar Series.

Please register for Carolina Mental Health Update event to receive a Zoom link.

In the meantime, we hope you will explore and bookmark the Heels Care Network, our central campus hub for mental health resources for all UNC-Chapel Hill community members – students, employees, families and the broader community.

Thank you for your support and commitment to a caring and compassionate Carolina community. We look forward to seeing you at the April 28 Update and the Fall Colloquium!

This summer's group offerings include Improv Your Way to You, Graduate and Professional Students of Color, Dissertation Support, Post-Doc Support, and Koru Mindfulness.

Details are available on the Therapy Groups Offered website.

A double alumna of the University, Jessica Lambert Ward has considered UNC her home for more than 20 years.

Ward received both her undergraduate and master's degrees at UNC. Now, she serves as the director of the Carolina Collaborative for Resilience, working to create a more supportive environment for undergraduate and graduate students.

“I am really here to do the work," Lambert Wardsaid. "To build the trust of the UNC community, and the students, and create a kind of environment where everyone feels seen, heard, and understood, and supported.”

With the excitement that comes from being able to gather without as many COVID-19 restrictions as we experienced in months past, among many other milestones to celebrate, we encourage everyone in the Tar Heel community to continue looking out for one another this LDOC.   

Being an active bystander means you are observing the environment around you in anticipation of taking action, rather than just expecting someone else will. If we are all active bystanders, we will create a community that promotes healthy values, where we can depend on each other.   

Some ways we can help ensure the safety and wellness of all Tar Heels include: 

Before going out. Arrange a way to get home before you leave the house. Travel together with someone you trust and talk through where you plan on going and what activities you plan on engaging in. This way you can watch out for one another. A good conversation starter can include making the decision to eat before you go or discussing where to get food. Also, if you plan to drink alcohol, set an intention for how much you want to drink before going out. Research shows that this helps people stay within the safe limits they are hoping for. 

Learn more about UNC's alcohol policy and tips for reducing your risk if you drink at alcohol.unc.edu.

While you are out. Avoid consuming substances from communal areas, to help ensure you know what is in your cup. Stay with your group of friends.  

Throughout the night. Count your drinks, and be sure to drink plenty of water. Be mindful of your surroundings —keep in mind that you’re often in residential neighborhoods with people who aren’t students or aren’t celebrating on LDOC. 

Stress Relief & Substance use 

While it could be tempting to turn to alcohol to cope with the stress of exams, know that alcohol consumption can weaken your immune system and negatively impact your ability to regulate your emotions.  It can also affect academic performance and brain function. If you're considering using substances understand what you are putting into your body and the potential risk involved. Know that most Carolina students, if they choose to drink at all, only consume 3 drinks on a night out (NCHA, 2019). 

If you are concerned about your substance use habits, check out the Student Wellness website for resources or send us an email to set up a one-on-one appointment with a trained staff member.  

Take Care of Yourself!

Taking care of yourself, your friends and your family can help you cope with stress and make your community stronger. 

  • Take intentional breaks from your screens. Being on your phone or computer for extended periods of time can be draining.  Schedule in breaks to get outside or call a friend to break up your studying and schoolwork. Try to do some activities outside you enjoy. 
  • Take care of your body... and your brain. 
  • Meditate
  • Eat Well
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Exercise regularly
  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Make time to unwind. Practice self-care during this time by journaling, meditating or trying a new self-compassion exercise. If you are feeling overwhelmed, reach out and ask for help. Additional mental health resources can be found here.  
  • Connect with others. If you want to get together, hang with small groups who you know well and trust. Assess your risk with the updated CDC guidelines and recommendations. 
  • Support your friends, family and your community. Send encouraging text messages with jokes, memes, funny pictures and/or inspiration. 

No matter how you celebrate LDOC, take time to reflect on the year, center your well-being and support your fellow Tar Heels.  

Happy LDOC! 

By Alyssa, a Peer Tutor at the Writing and Learning Centers

I didn’t realize how much school affected my mental health until my Freshman year of college. I was sitting in my dorm, listening to my heart pound in my chest at the mere thought of doing poorly on my next physics exam and wondering how I had let my stress get so out of control.

“Fun Fact: the average person can throw a baseball at least 3 giraffes high”

Unfortunately, this cute giraffe fact that my professor put on our first physics exam did not make me feel any better about my exam grade. I have a tendency to beat myself up about my academic performance. In high school, my friends would roll their eyes and assume I was humble-bragging whenever I complained about missing one or two questions on an exam, but every little mistake made me think, I am lazy and stupid and just not trying hard enough.

My transition to college was hard in many ways I had never anticipated. I was struggling to understand the content in some of my classes, which I never experienced in high school. Every time I bombed a physics test or couldn’t figure out how to make my code work for my programming class, I felt like a fraud and a failure. It got harder and harder to find the motivation to do things I actually enjoyed. Tasks like studying concepts I hadn’t understood in lecture or solving problems that would take me hours to figure out seemed totally insurmountable.

At times, just the mention of school left me spiraling. This is hopeless. Life is exhausting. The only way I kept up with my school work was by leveraging my fear that I will be an even bigger failure to force myself to be productive.

Although college was not the cause of my mental health problems, being in a high-stress academic environment far from my support system exacerbated my underlying depression and anxiety beyond what I could handle on my own. Learning to acknowledge and cope with mental illness has been a long, often challenging process, and I am still figuring out how to manage my mental health with academics and extracurricular activities. Here are some of the most important lessons I’ve learned (so far) about balancing mental health with college life:

Learn Your Low Points

Having a mental illness can be incredibly isolating. My depression makes it hard for me to believe that I deserve help and even harder to find the motivation to seek it out. That means it is important for me to be conscious of signs that I need help and make an extra effort to connect with the resources I need. On the mental health side, I keep tabs on my mood and look for indicators that I need another therapy appointment. More recently, I reached out to my primary care physician for medication to help me manage some of my more severe symptoms.

On the academic side, asking for help means that when I find myself struggling in class, I don’t retreat inward and get stuck in a cycle of telling myself I should be smart enough to figure this out on my own. Instead, I accept that asking for help is part of the learning process and seek out the support I need to maximize my success in every class. If I’m confused about a concept or assignment, I usually start by talking to one of my friends in the class.

The idea of talking to a professor or TA about a problem I’m having can be a bit more daunting. When I start drafting an email to a professor, I always feel a bit afraid of coming across as incompetent. To combat that anxiety, I take care to write a polite, professional email and do my best to remember that most professors are more than happy to support their students.

I also keep resources like Peer Tutoring and Academic Coaching on my radar in case I need extra one-on-one support. Asking for help and making a proactive effort to connect to the resources available to me has helped relieve some of the anxiety I feel about school. Instead of spending hours getting frustrated with myself for not being able to figure out a problem, I seek out support when I need it. Becoming more comfortable with the concept of asking for help makes me a better collaborative learner and helps me view challenging problems as opportunities to grow as a student instead of evidence of my own limitations.

Build Bridges

Before Freshman year, I had never been away from home for more than a week or so at a time. When I lived at home, I was surrounded by people that I could talk to if I needed support. Living at college was different: even though I had close friends, in the back of my mind, I felt like no one can understand what I’m going through. It was easy to give into the urge to isolate myself whenever I was feeling depressed, which inevitably left me feeling even worse. 

For me, the toughest part of building a new support system at college was how big everything felt. In high school, it was relatively easy to make friends, since I was surrounded by more or less the same people every day for four years. It was a lot harder to make friends in a massive lecture hall of several hundred people than it was in a classroom of thirty-some.

Over time, I learned how to reach out and make connections at college. I joined several clubs and extracurricular activities that seemed interesting to me, and I ended up meeting a lot of people with similar interests. I started talking more to the people I share classes and labs with, even if we were just commiserating about the latest grueling assignment. Every friendly face I saw on campus made me feel a bit less alone, and I found several close friends that I really clicked with as well.

When I started being open about my mental illness, I discovered that my friends and family are a more reliable support system than I ever gave them credit for. I tried talking to some of my close friends at college about my struggles with mental health, and they were encouraging and understanding. When I’m having a tough time with depression, I call one of my family members instead of isolating myself, and they always manage to make me feel a bit better.

Connecting with my support system makes it easier to manage the ups and downs of my mental illness, which helps me get back on track to focus on classes and other activities. When I tried to keep my depression and anxiety to myself, I saw the results reflected in my coursework. I often felt too anxious to focus on studying or too depressed to find motivation to get my work done.

When I share some of my struggles with my support system, it feels a little easier to keep my mental health from interfering with the things I want to do. If I talk to my friends about an exam grade I’m upset about, they can usually talk me down from my anxiety and help me put that one grade in the context of a whole semester of opportunities to learn and improve. Having that support makes it easier for me to get out of my own head and focus on doing my best work.

Make a Plan of Action

Between classes, work, volunteering, and other extracurricular activities, my schedule for the week is usually pretty busy. Once the semester starts, the list of things I need to get done every week becomes pretty overwhelming. I spend a lot of time worrying I am never going to be able to get all this work doneSolid time management is essential for helping me manage the anxiety surrounding my to-do list.

At the beginning of the semester, I put all of my major assignment due dates in a Google calendar. I also add in volunteer shifts, club meetings, appointments, and other scheduled events as they arise. At the beginning of each week, I use that calendar to make a list of everything I have to do for that week, adding in chores or other personal activities that aren’t on the calendar. I then split the activities for the week onto seven separate Post-it notes that I stick above my desk, trying to spread the workload evenly throughout the upcoming week.

As the week goes on, I cross off activities as I finish them. When I don’t finish everything I have planned, I move to-do items to another day in the week. Knowing that I have a structured yet flexible plan to tackle the week, I can talk myself down when I start thinking I can’t handle this.

Pink Post-it note titled To Do 2/15 with a list of to-do items like watch CHEM 430 lecture and fold laundry.
One of my many Post-it notes.

Probably the most important part of my daily schedule is that I make a point of blocking out at least one self-care activity each day. Most days, that activity is something like going for a walk, watching a movie, or reading a book. Anxiety and depression often leave me believing I don’t deserve a break. I need to keep working to make sure I don’t slip up. Scheduling a self-care activity each day reminds me that taking time for myself is important, especially on the days when my mental illness tells me otherwise. When I take time out of my day to take care of myself, I have more energy and focus to get back to work later.

Treat Yourself Right

Even though I do my best to strike an equitable balance between mental health and academics, things are far from perfect. Sometimes I spend days agonizing because I forgot about an assignment even though it was on my to-do list, or I did badly on a test that I thought I was prepared for. I still have a lot of times where depression makes it hard to find the motivation to get work done or I feel overwhelmed with anxiety about the future. It’s times like these when I need to remember to practice self-compassion.

Self-compassion means forgiving myself when things don’t work out perfectly. It means treating myself with kindness instead of derision when my depression or anxiety starts to feel insurmountable. Even when it doesn’t feel like it, I am trying my best. I can forgive myself for making mistakes. I deserve time to relax and take care of myself. For the really bad days, I keep a list of coping mechanisms on my phone so I can easily come up with something to do to make myself feel a bit better.

An iPhone Notes app titled Coping Skills includes ideas such as stretch, be with nature, and go for a drive.
My list of ways to cope when I’m having a rough day.

Balancing mental health with college life will probably never be easy. I’m still far from having everything figured out, but I’m starting to feel like I’m heading in the right direction. For now, I will do my best to stick to the strategies that work for me and try to make every day a little bit better than the one before.

Resources:


This blog showcases the perspectives of UNC-Chapel Hill community members learning and writing online. If you want to talk to a Writing and Learning Center coach about implementing strategies described in the blog, make an appointment with a writing coach, a peer tutor, or an academic coach today. Have an idea for a blog post about how you are learning and writing remotely? Contact us here.

Thanksgiving can be a time that brings up a lot of feelings for people. Be kind to yourself and the people around you!

Gratitude

Thanksgiving often brings up thoughts about gratitude. While just noticing your gratitude makes a difference, you can add benefit to the people around you by expressing gratitude to them. Encourage people around the dinner table to share a story of when they were grateful for someone at the meal. 

You can also write about gratitude, and jot down the little moments of your day that make you feel grateful. If you want to bring this idea to Thanksgiving, create a gratitude tree or jar for everyone to use, or write gratitude postcards to people who are far away. You could also make a collage, Reel, or TikTok to visually express gratitude

However you notice and/or share - take time this holiday to experience gratitude. 

Culture

Your family may have traditions that you invoke for Thanksgiving. Cherish the ones that bring you joy, and don't be afraid to suggest new ways of doing things this holiday to move away from activities that no longer serve you.

Remember that the history around Thanksgiving is complex. Thanksgiving can be a reminder of the genocide and violence that Native communities experienced and continue to experience. Decolonize your Thanksgiving by learning about, listening to, and celebrating Native people.

Food

For many of us, food is central to our holiday. Try to make food a positive experience for everyone this holiday. If you talk about food, focus on the wonderful flavors of the season and gratitude for the land, workers, and chef who helped bring the food to the table. Use mindful eating strategies:

  • Stick to normal eating habits, eating consistently and mindfully throughout the day. 
  • Pay attention to hunger and fullness cues. Eat when you're hungry. Stop when you're full.
  • Be present during meals. Slow down and notice how the food tastes. Feel the pleasure and satisfaction in the eating experience.
  • Add foods, don't subtract. All foods fit into healthy eating! Consider how to add nutrient-filled and diverse foods into your body.

Health Care and Mental Health

While Campus Health is closed on Thursday 11/24 through Sunday 11/27, students may visit a local urgent care facility for health needs. Students may also call Campus Health at 919-966-2281 24/7 and be connected to UNC Nurse Connect to discuss their non-emergent health concerns. Students can call CAPS 24/7 at 919-966-3658 for mental health support.

Don’t forget to explore the rest of the Heels Care Network for a comprehensive collection of mental health and well-being resources, including peer support, helpful articles, information about support groups, online self-assessment tools, events and more. 

May your Thanksgiving be full of experiences for which to be grateful. 

During a pandemic, with the winter weather disruptions of late, and the near-constant tensions in current events, none of us can be as productive as usual. The strategies below can help us be efficiently productive to allow time for self-care. 

Campus Survival is a Marathon, not a Sprint

Time is our most limited resource. If you're feeling exhausted but still don't have time for all of your work, make a change. Pause, evaluate how you're spending your time, and find solutions to help you work less but accomplish more. It's possible.

Self-Care is a Responsibility

Hobbies, physical movement, and rest are critical to your success as a student or employee. Self-care helps your mind and body be ready to focus, write, memorize and perform. Sleeping enough, seeing friends, cooking food, playing sports, finding fun - these activities genuinely help you produce better work. Learn which leisure activities are helpful and which only provide the illusion of rest and recovery. If you ever feel pressured to skip self-care, remember self-care is a responsibility, not an indulgence.

Watch for the Short-Term Task Trap

Life requires balancing three things: short-term tasks, long-term tasks, and self-care. Short-term tasks (due tomorrow, due this week, waiting for a reply) have the most visible deadlines, which push us to prioritize them. Alternatively, long-term tasks (writing a thesis, finishing a paper) and self-care activities (sleep, rest, play, movement) are much more important, but there is little consequence to letting time slip by without working on them. This makes it easy to start skipping on self-care or long-term projects. Fight to keep short-term tasks from taking over. Accountability helps.

  • Create your own deadlines and rules, like "3 pages by X date" or  "Go for a jog M/W/F" or "Meal with a friend 2x per week."
  • Reserve times exclusively for long-term tasks or self-care. Never let short-term tasks violate those protected hours, even if that means leaving someone waiting.

There are More Things Worth Doing Than Anyone Can Do

When deciding whether or not to take on a new task or project, ask yourself "Is this more worth doing than the thing I will have to give up to do it?" Anything you add means less time for something else. Consider what you'll be giving up and whether losing that will be worth it. You might wait 24 hours before saying "yes" to something new to give time for reflection.

Campus Culture Pushes Us in Many Directions

University culture pushes us to ask a lot of ourselves - as a student, employee, friend, intellectual, agent of change, and more. No one can give outstanding effort in so many directions at once. Focus on the aspects of life that are most important for you personally to give your all. 

Reach out for help if you need it.

There are many support structures at UNC-Chapel Hill to help you balance campus demands.

For students: advisors, learning center coacheswellbeing coachesCAPS, and more.

For employees: Work-Life Balance, Center for Faculty Excellence

Reach out for help if you need it. 

Adapted from Healthy Work Habits by Ada Palmer

The Writing Center at UNC provides many useful educational resources on their website, including the "How I Write and Learn" blog. This blog contains many posts on things such as time management, studying tips, academic coaching and more. This resource is a wonderful way to improve your academic success and alleviate stress to take care of your well-being.

Image by HANNAH RUHOFF

Originally published The News & Observer | by KIMBERLY CATAUDELLA | Updated November 25, 2022 12:54 PM

Read more at: https://www.newsobserver.com/living/article269151827.html#storylink=cpy

Tough news locally and across the country this week has dampened a typically joyful beginning to the end-of-year holiday season.

If you’re spending time with loved ones and notice someone’s not doing well, what’s the best thing to say? How can our words and actions extend beyond the holiday gathering?

“For so many, this is the first holiday season that feels normal again, so expectations are super high. But holidays are never perfect, as much as we’d like them to be, so we should think about how to help ourselves and each other when we all eventually need it,” said Robin Gurwitch, Ph.D., psychologist and professor at Duke University Medical Center.

The News & Observer talked with Gurwitch and Dr. Crystal Schiller, a clinical psychologist with the UNC Department of Psychiatry, to learn more about how to best handle these situations this holiday season.

COMMON SIGNS OF MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES

Generally, you can identify signs of a mental health struggle by noticeable changes in someone’s behavior, which can include:

  • Withdrawing from social interactions, and not being as talkative.
  • Or the reverse, talking much more than they usually do.
  • Drinking much more alcohol than they normally do.
  • Eating much less or much more.

“When I see these things, I wouldn’t comment on the behavior itself, like ‘Oh, I see you’re not talking to anybody.’ But I’d instead start by asking some broad questions, like how are things going for you? How are you feeling today?” Schiller said.

“See what the person brings up, and if they’re open to a discussion, then you can ask some more follow-up questions and understand what this difficult time looks like for them.”

If they’re not receptive to a conversation, you shouldn’t push it more, she said: “There’s nothing worse than feeling really bad and having someone pry into your business. You can check in with them later.”

HOW TO HELP SOMEONE STRUGGLING OVER THE HOLIDAYS

Here’s how Schiller suggests you help a loved one struggling over the holiday season:

  • Find a quiet place to talk: Don’t have this conversation at the holiday table. Find a moment of quiet and ask those broad “How are you doing today?” questions to see if your loved one is interested in a conversation.
  • Listen actively: Ask questions to paint a picture. If something difficult happened in your loved one’s life, you can ask appropriate questions to learn more about the hardship they’re facing.
  • Ask for an action step: Instead of saying “Is there anything I can do to help?” you can ask “What’s one thing I can do to support you?” Make sure you hear their request and follow through. If you’re not in a position to help them out, but you notice they’re struggling, you might talk with them to learn who else can be a source of support for them.
  • Reach out the next day: You should do this both if your loved one was open to talking, and if they weren’t. Let them know you’re thinking about them and were glad to spend time with them for the holidays. “We don’t always know the little moments that make a difference in someone’s life,” Gurwitch said. “Just knowing someone out there cares about them and was thinking about them in that moment.”

IF YOU’RE STRUGGLING THIS HOLIDAY SEASON, DO THESE THINGS

While we’re thinking about ways to help our loved ones having a difficult time this holiday season, we should take time to consider how we’re feeling and ways we can feel supported. Here are some ways Gurwitch recommends checking in with yourself ahead of these important days:

  • Know holidays are never perfect: “We’ve all seen holiday movies. We know people don’t get along, the food gets burned… that’s what makes us laugh. That’s the conflict of those movies we watch every year,” she said. “Set aside your expectations that the holiday will be perfect. It won’t.” By managing expectations ahead of time, you won’t feel disappointed or guilty when the holiday doesn’t go to perfect plan, or if you recognize in advance that the holidays will be tough for you this year.
  • Establish a trusted buddy: Take time before the holiday events to identify a trusted friend or family member you can reach out to if things get tough. It can be helpful to establish a check-in time — if dinner is scheduled for 4 p.m., maybe you can plan to text your trusted buddy at 6. “It doesn’t even have to be a phone call, or sending a long text with updates about the day. It can be sending one emoji to update with how you’re feeling. Or a number on a scale from 1 to 10. But if you need to talk by phone or FaceTime, make sure ahead of time that your friend will be around to help you out.”
  • Make space to grieve, but know experiencing holiday joy is also perfectly fine. “It’s OK to feel joy being together while also mourning. Both emotions can be there at the same time. Don’t feel guilty for having a nice time when you thought the holidays would be nothing but difficult,” she said. You can excuse yourself to a separate room or a walk around the block if you start to get overwhelmed.
  • Help someone else, if you’d like: Sometimes, if you’re feeling stressed or having feelings tough to manage, you can help yourself by helping someone else. You can offer to make something for the holiday gathering, or you can find an organization to volunteer with. If lending a helping hand is too overwhelming and you need some mental health resources to help you through your difficult time, that’s more than OK.

HOW TO OFFER MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORT TO FRIENDS, FAMILY

If a loved one is showing signs of a mental health issue or asking you for help, here’s how MentalHealth.gov “For Friends and Family Members” guide suggests you can offer your support:

  • Are they getting help? Find out if the person is getting the care that they need or want. If not, connect them to resources for help.
  • Show compassion: Express your concern and support.
  • Help is available: Remind your loved one that help is available, and mental health problems can be treated.
  • Listen actively: Ask questions, listen to ideas and be responsive when the topic of mental health problems come up.
  • Tell them you care: Reassure your loved one that you care about them.
  • Lend a hand: Offer to help your loved one with everyday tasks.
  • Extend an invite: Include your loved one in your plans. Continue to invite them without being overbearing, even if they resist your invitations.
  • Talk about mental health openly: Educate other people so they understand mental health issues and treat those struggling with dignity and compassion.
  • Be respectful: Treat people with mental health problems with respect, compassion and empathy.

CONVERSATION-STARTERS ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH WITH FRIENDS, FAMILY

If you need help starting a conversation about mental health challenges, you can try these leading questions from MentalHealth.gov’s “For Friends and Family Members” guide. Make sure you actively listen to your loved one’s responses.

  • I’ve been worried about you. Can we talk about what you are experiencing? If not, who are you comfortable talking to?
  • What can I do to help you to talk about issues with your parents, or someone else who is responsible and cares about you?
  • What else can I help you with?
  • I am someone who cares and wants to listen. What do you want me to know about how you are feeling?
  • Who or what has helped you deal with similar issues in the past?
  • Sometimes talking to someone who has dealt with a similar experience helps. Do you know of others who have experienced these types of problems who you can talk with?
  • It seems like you are going through a difficult time. How can I help you to find help?
  • How can I help you find more information about mental health problems?
  • I’m concerned about your safety. Have you thought about harming yourself or others?

When talking about mental health problems:

  • Know how to connect people to help.
  • Communicate in a straightforward manner.
  • Speak at a level appropriate to a person’s age and development level.
  • Discuss the topic when and where the person feels safe and comfortable.
  • Watch for reactions during the discussion and slow down or back up if the person becomes confused or looks upset.

MentalHealth.gov has a long list of resources available for anyone in need. They have guides for parents, family members, children and more hoping to open conversations about mental health. Find those guides at MentalHealth.gov/talk.

MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCES IN NORTH CAROLINA

Mental health resources — especially amid the pandemic, and even more so as we approach the holiday season — have been limited. The N&O previously put together a list for anyone who needs help.

Find resources for immediate help and specific groups for people in and around the Triangle at newsobserver.com/news.

If the COVID-19 pandemic has left you feeling disconnected, disheartened or just plain down in the dumps, a good way to reconnect and feel better is to volunteer in your community.

Before the pandemic, about three in 10 Americans volunteered each year, but 2020 saw a major drop in volunteerism as people stayed home to stay safe and weren’t sure how to find virtual opportunities.

Finding a safe way to volunteer now can not only help your community but can also benefit your whole health, says Dr. Austin Hall, medical director of the UNC Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health.

“We approach patient care holistically,” Hall says. “That means making sure that we are looking at patients’ physical, social and cognitive well-being. Volunteering is a great tool that can engage all of those aspects of health.”

Whether you help build a home, serve food, clean up litter or perform another act of service, here are four ways Hall says volunteering can benefit your health.

Mental health benefits of volunteer work

Volunteering has been shown to have a positive effect on both mental health and cognitive abilities. By engaging in a common mission or cause with others, you feel more connected and useful, which spurs happier thoughts and a more positive outlook.

Spending time volunteering can also keep your mind sharp by engaging your brain.

“The most solid evidence for the cognitive benefits of volunteering has been shown in older adults, because they have been studied most,” Hall says. “In this age group, volunteering can delay cognitive decline. But at any age, engaging your mind in this way may have cognitive benefits.”

Physical health benefits of volunteer work

Physical activity is good for your body, and volunteering can help get you moving.

“The primary volunteer opportunity we offer individuals through our center is working on our farm, where we grow fresh produce for people in our area with mental illness who might have barriers to accessing healthy foods or incorporating whole foods into their diet,” Hall says. “This kind of volunteering gets people active outdoors, which has even more added benefits, like fresh air and a dose of vitamin D from the sun.”

Physical activity has also been shown to have a positive effect on mental health, so by choosing an active volunteer opportunity, you can benefit even more. Keep in mind that in most volunteer situations, the physical activity required can be modified to fit a person’s abilities.

Social-emotional health benefits of volunteer work

A healthy part of the human experience is being around others. Hall says that generally, people who are more isolated from others are more prone to mental health conditions. In addition, sometimes mental health conditions can make people feel more isolated or cause them to isolate themselves. Socialization can break that cycle, bringing the experience of feeling connected and helping people build new relationships.

Finding purpose in volunteer work

“Meaningful and purposeful roles are important to our health,” Hall says. “Volunteer opportunities have the potential to create an additional role for individuals that may contribute to their feeling of meaning and purpose.”

Having roles that feel meaningful can help with your sense of worth and value. Especially at this point in the pandemic, developing a new social identity through volunteering may be helpful for people who are feeling a little lost.

Volunteering safely during a pandemic

As with any activity, people have different comfort levels with the risk of exposure to COVID-19 while volunteering. Whatever your risk tolerance, it is possible to serve your community safely. Many organizations offer virtual opportunities and outdoor opportunities. If you volunteer inside with other people, make sure to wear a mask. If you’re vaccinated against COVID-19, you may feel comfortable tackling the same kind of volunteer activities you would have done before the pandemic.

Austin Hall

Dr. Austin Hall is an associate professor of psychiatry and director of clinical informatics in psychiatry at the UNC School of Medicine and the medical director of the UNC Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health.

Read more stories from UNC Health.

Originally Published November 28, 2022 on Healthy Heels

Every semester during the week before finals, UNC-CH collaborates on a wellness initiative to support students. The goal is to raise awareness, provide new information, prompt reflection, and highlight services, resources, and events around campus by focusing on the importance of:

  • Sleep is all about patterns. Can you work to keep healthy sleep patterns consistent during finals? 
  • Nutrition means listening to your body. Eat when you’re hungry; stop when you’re full. You might plan ahead and make some meals and snacks in bulk so you can eat nourishing food without needing a lot of time.
  • Activity – Movement can help you retain material better than if you study while sitting still. So ride a stationary bike while you review your notes. Go for a walk on Battle Park trails to take a movement and nature break.
  • Connecting with people you adore is essential to finals success, improving your executive function, learning, and memory. Support each other during finals! Check in on a genuine level, talk about topics outside of academics, study and take fun breaks together, and avoid stress competition or comparing grades.
  • Knowledge – This time of year is all about gaining and retaining knowledge. How you study can make a difference! Use active study techniques like creating flashcards, using a study group, or scheduling breaks after short bursts of learning.
  • Self-Care means checking in with yourself about what you need and then making that happen when you can. Keep it simple! Pause and unplug from tech for a few minutes. Get outside. Take a few deep breaths. Hydrate. Play a favorite song. Make sure you take some moments just for you during finals.

Fall 2022 Finals Support Events at UNC Chapel Hill

This calendar will be updated throughout finals – check back often for more events and email healthyheels@unc.edu if you have an event to add!

Monday 11/28

Tuesday 11/29

Wednesday 11/30

Thursday 12/1

Friday 12/2

Saturday 12/3

Peer Chat
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