As the second week of the spring kicks off, staff members of Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS), the Office of Health Promotion (OHP) and Recreation & Wellness are still seeing students weather the same virtual classrooms and stressors from the fall, only this time amid even more staggering COVID-19 case numbers. Confined to small living spaces, swamped with assignments and devoid of a social life, Emory students have continued to battle mental illness for the past year.

Illustration by Ally Hom

CAPS Associate Director of Outreach & Consultation Services Jane Yang’s first piece of advice to students is that, as classes pick up, “be gentle with yourselves.” 

Director of Recreation & Wellness April Flint noted that students are still evaluating themselves against pre-pandemic standards, which can harm mental health.

“We’re working and living in the same space,” Flint said. “We have to figure out and plan and take care of ourselves in a different way.”

Flint noted that some “positives” have arisen out of this socially distanced environment — we have become more aware of our mental health. 

“People are more concerned and aware about their mental and physical health because [the pandemic] has created this environment where we are working and living in the same spaces,” she said. “It forces us to figure out how to plan and take care of ourselves in a different way. There is this awareness of ‘These are my challenges and how can I figure out how to turn the corner?’” 

The Campus Life team has taken an integrative approach on improving resources available to students this semester. In fact, all four departments have worked in collaboration with colleagues from Oxford Counseling & Career Services and Living Well on an Integrated Health and Wellness Committee to address student needs. Discussions with students revealed that Zoom fatigue and lack of human connection has affected students the most. 

Flint and Director of the Office of Health Promotion Brandi Benton plan to provide self-help “tool kits,” or digital resources such as a daily planner, articles and links to meditation classes to students. Benton also mentioned that OHP plans to install signs across campus with QR codes that students can scan to gain access to e-resources. 

In September, CAPS experienced a 71% increase in appointments, leading to an increased variety of services like Timely MD, a free platform that provides students both in and out of Georgia with 24/7 access to therapists.

“The main components of mental well being and this partnership with CAPS is that we really do serve as an office that helps students think about themselves as a whole person, not just reactionary but also how to prevent some of the problems,” Yang said.

In addition to individual sessions during the spring, CAPS and the Office of Health Promotion plan to host events weekly for students focused on mindfulness and meditation. These events will feature 12 wellness coaches from various offices on the Atlanta and Oxford campuses, who will provide guidance and tips. 

“Students have actually done a good bit themselves, like outdoor lawn games,” Flint noted. “Our hope is as the weather warms up, we’ll be able to do more things outdoors.” 

Without spring break this semester, Campus Life staff encourage students to follow their social media, where they will upload wellness resources, reminders and tips to follow during rest days. 

“It’s important to consider mental health holistically, physical, emotional, these things are very linked together,” Yang said. “ We miss you, the human contact with you. All [students] have to do is call.

Correction (3/4/21 at 5:05 p.m.): A previous version of this article centered around CAPS. In fact, the Office of Health Promotion (OHP) and Recreation & Wellness are also involved in these mental health initiatives.