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Department Showcase: Student Wellness

February 4, 2022

UNC Student Wellness supports Carolina students through education and development of a campus culture that promotes making healthy choices. Student Wellness Director Dean Blackburn and Health Messaging Coordinator Sarah Fitzgerald tell us about the department and how their work supports students.

How long has Student Wellness been at Carolina?

Health education as a standalone unit was initially established in the mid-1980’s as a one-person operation out of the then Student Health Services. In the mid-2000's after many years of adding staff, refocusing the mission, department merger, and name change, we became Counseling and Wellness Services. Around 2012 it was determined that health promotion and wellness programs and services needed a more visible role on campus and a decision was made to separate the two offices again, and the current iteration of the office of Student Wellness was developed. 

Where are you located? 

Student Wellness is located in the Student and Academic Services Building (SASB) South in Suite 1310. Come visit us!

How many staff are in Student Wellness? 

Our Student Wellness team currently includes approximately 10 full-time employees, five part-time employees, three graduate interns, three undergraduate interns and two work-study students. 

What does Student Wellness do to support students at Carolina? 

The primary audience for Student Wellness’s efforts is students — both undergraduate and graduate/professional students. To best serve students, we also work with faculty, staff and families to better understand the needs of students and resources available to support them.  We also work closely with local community members to build networks and collaborative efforts to further support our students, both on and off campus.   

The office today focuses on educating, developing skills, building out additional resources, and advocating for a campus culture that supports students in making the healthiest choices. Included in our specific offerings are education and services related to sexual health and healthy relationships; overall health promotion of proactive/prosocial health and wellness choices and actions; a specific and growing focus on promoting and supporting mental well-being (through stress reduction/management, self-esteem and compassion building, coping and resiliency strategies, etc); and through programs and services that help students navigate decisions regarding substance use (abstinence, risk reduction, early intervention, treatment referral and recovery supports).  We do this through a growing lens of understanding health determinants for various student populations (first year, first gen, economics, grad/professional, international, race, gender, etc) and supporting health equity through increased cultural competence and cultural relevance in our offerings. 

What are some of the top wellness issues that you think are facing Carolina students? 

Our department is actively assessing the needs of students through various media, including National assessments, program evaluations and insightful conversations with student groups. The pandemic has highlighted a handful of specific areas that we know Carolina students are struggling with, including anxiety and depression, isolation and loneliness, and stress and coping. 

We also know that Carolina students have historically not gotten adequate amounts of sleep, which can exacerbate these other areas. 

How has your team adapted to provide service during COVID-19? 

Wellness continues to adapt to the pandemic by providing services that meet students' highest needs and increasing accessibility to programs, 1:1 wellness coaching sessions, and shifting to both virtually and hybrid platforms. As the pandemic has continued and students have started to feel zoom fatigue, we have felt it is important to meet Tar Heels where they are at. This semester we will be adapting by launching the Well-Being Campaign initiatives in person with Monday tablings in Rams Head and Wednesday lunchtime workshops. 

What is the one wellness tip you want to share with students today? 

“You can’t pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first.” Try establishing a self-care routine that makes time for at least one thing you enjoy doing for yourself every day. Read a book, go for a walk, sleep, bake, yoga, exercise, rest … what’s important is that you find what works for you! "

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