How to take care of mental health in the return to “normal”?

We return to the long-awaited presence. We went out again, to get together with friends and family, we returned to classes and the office… But we also started to set the alarm clock earlier, we remember how much time we waste on transport, we remember that we don’t like to speak very much in public, or we realized that we have a few extra kilos…

Burden.

That seems to be the word that has characterized this period of return to life “live and direct”, and also of resuming or creating new daily routines. What is accompanied by tiredness, sleeping difficulties, anxiety, depression, feelings of loneliness and insecurity, among many other sensations and problems.

According to Mental Health Thermometer in Chile 2022published last August, 27.5% of those surveyed exhibited moderate or severe symptoms of anxiety, increasing 2.5 points compared to the previous year. According to the study carried out by the UC Center for Surveys and Longitudinal Studies, and the Chilean Safety Association (ACHS), 34.1% of those consulted have resorted to a professional for emotional problems and 21.1% showed probable presence of mental health problems.

According to the same study, 47% consider that their life is quite different from the one they had before the Covid 19 pandemic. 29.2% reported a sedentary lifestyle, 13.1% moderate or severe insomnia problems, and 10 .1% admitted risky alcohol consumption, among others.

Readjust to everyday life

The students have had to learn to “deal with or face face-to-face classes, with all that it means, for example, presenting before a “real” audience and not in front of cameras that are turned off. Talking to one another, “reading” body language, socializing.” (Photo credit: César Cortés)

The mental health situation in Chile is not very different from that of our university community. How does it count Director of Student Health and Well-being, María Paz Janaduring the first semester of this year, which was marked by the return of face-to-face classes, it was experienced “a rise in requests for mental health services, which is related to issues of depression, anxiety and sleep difficulties. Academic suspensions due to mental health problems also increased,” he says.

This year, nearly three generations of students experienced college life on campus for the first time. As the professional says, the students have had to learn to “deal with face-to-face classes, with all that it means, for example, presenting to a “real” audience and not in front of cameras that are turned off. Talking to one another, “reading” body language, socializing”. These are all skills that students have had to relearn.

“It is an academic generation that has more social problems and that must learn to face the day to day, to organize itself”, adds María Paz Jana.

Hence, the first half of this year was rather a period of adjustment. And not just for students. How do you explain the professor at the School of Psychology Claudia Arayawe longed to return to normality, but it seems that we had idealized that normality. We spend a lot of energy adapting to the pandemic -to the online format, wearing masks, washing our hands, etc.- and turns out it required a lot of energy to get back. The return involved a fairly large wear, for some the feeling arose of not being able to get on the bandwagon”.

As stated by also academic of the School of Psychology, Dariela Sharim, “At first, the pandemic generated adaptive behaviors and attitudes. But when we started to come out of the lockdown, situations of discomfort began to appear: we were very alone regarding all this that was happening and the fears, the fears that arose”.

We are faced with our own fragility.

Now we are in a moment of re-adaptation, of resuming our routines. And the risk, as the psychologist affirms, is to make everything that happened to us invisible.

“It is an academic generation that has more social problems and that must learn to face day to day, to organize itself” – María Paz Jana, director of Health and Student Welfare.

stop

As a way to accompany the university community in the return process, in 2021 the UC Reunion Project was born. The initiative -with a duration of three years-, seeks to strengthen our ties and give space to the various experiences lived, making their impact visible.

The first action was “mental health break”, which aimed to install and legitimize a clear message of care and listening to the various voices that constitute us as a community. “The idea was to try to get people to stop and see what came up,” says Dariela Sharim.

The invitation was for each academic and administrative unit of the university to organize a dialogue space, in small groups, with the support of a guideline and an audiovisual capsule. Then, the idea was to transform what was collected into a “product” or action, with its own stamp, to deliver a message to the rest of the community.

What came of it all? As Claudia Araya relates, “he gave us information about the great diversity that exists within our community, of more than 40 thousand people. There were faculties that did not need help, while others were in a crisis situation. We also realized that we had failed to reach the students. And on the other hand, some people valued the meeting and reflection spaces”.

“The return involved quite a lot of wear and tear, for some the feeling of not being able to get on the bandwagon arose” – Claudia Araya, UC Psychology professor.

What happened to our mental health?

Cube
The “mental health cube” toured the five university campuses, with LED screens and a blank wall with a single question: Where was my mental health? (Photo credit: Cesar Cortes)

In 2022, the objective of the Reunion Project was to continue with the message of to stop, not to get into the vortex and continue as if nothing had happened. Hence, it was sought to make interventions in terms of questions to challenge the university community. It was not about imposing something definite, but rather collecting the interests of existing groups in the UC.

Thus was born a joint work with joint committees and the Faculty of Social Sciences. “It helped us formulate the question: Where was my mental health? What has happened to me in this time?…”, expresses Dariela Sharim.

From this question arose the “mental health cube”. An itinerant cube through the five university campuses, with led screens showing excerpts from music, movies and words that emerged during the mental health break. While one of the faces of the cube was blank, only with the question at hand.

“Students responded en masse. We were surprised by the level of attendance and, on the other hand, by the depth of the content”says the psychologist. “They talked about the demand to take a break, but also about the empathy and solidarity that exists between them. The students took over the space.”he adds.

The images ofThe texts embodied in the cube were collected in a book, made in conjunction with the Office of Student Affairs. “It is important to highlight that there was no curatorship, all the writings were included. It is important to analyze it and show it”, says Claudia Araya.

Other interventions have also been carried out on campus, such as “The theater of the invisible”; moments of pause with the student choir; and a literary contest in conjunction with UC Libraries and the Faculty of Lettersfor people to answer the question about their mental health in the form of short stories of 50 words.

This second semester, a call for student volunteers, to work together and tell their experience -in a format to be defined-. Likewise, it seeks to work with professors from different faculties.

The UC Reunion Project is expected to close in 2023, with a publication that captures the whole experience of the community. In fact, the initiative has already caught the attention of other universities and institutions, who see what has been done as a benchmark for their own communities.

As Dariela concludes, the idea is that the project ends with the adoption of permanent measures for mental health care, to integrate them as part of the university’s work.

“(…) when we began to come out of confinement, situations of discomfort began to appear: we were very alone regarding all this that was happening and the fears, the fears that arose”- Dariela Sharim, professor at the School of Psychology .

mental health support

Health
As María Paz Jana, director of Student Health and Well-being, says: “We forgot how to connect with others, with my physical appearance, with ourselves. This has been a period to recognize ourselves. But at the same time, it also humanized relationships, made us value the personal encounter, the need arose to see each other, to connect”. (Photo credit: Cesar Cortes)

The Directorate of Student Health and Welfare has a Mental Health Unitwhich focuses on three main areas: promotion, prevention and clinical care.

In the area of ​​promotion of psychological well-being and prevention of mental health, it carries out mass dissemination campaigns, talks, training, psychoeducational workshops, training groups, counseling and meeting groups on issues that affect university life such as anxiety, stress and sleep, prevention of suicide and emotional suffering, self-care for the consumption of alcohol and other drugs, adaptation to changes, prevention of depression, accompanying diversity and building healthy relationships.

In the area of ​​clinical care, it performs brief treatments for students with mild mental health disorders, in individual and group care formats, which can be referred to psychiatric consultation in the UC-Christus health network.

As María Paz Jana, director of Student Health and Well-being, tells us, during this period of return Attention hours have been reinforced, special support has been given to those in charge of student affairs in the different faculties, and some programs have been transformed and reinforced. There is also annex 5000for all campuses, where you can go in the event of a mental health crisis.

“We forgot how to bond with others, with my physique, with ourselves. This has been a period to recognize ourselves. But at the same time, it also humanized relationships, made us value the personal encounter, the need arose to see each other, to connect”, adds the professional.

• Talk to others, go to classes, interact in groups, play sports.
• The sense of belonging -to a community, to the work team, to the university- is a very important protective factor, since it gives us meaning.
• Being an assistant or tutor in a course, participating in a volunteering or in a group with a common hobby or interest.
• If you have sleep problems, reduce the use of screens (computer, tablet, telephone…)
• Organize: plan the day to day, evaluate and make the necessary adjustments. • Ask for help.

Mental Health and Wellness Resources

How to take care of mental health in the return to “normal”? – Pontifical Catholic University of Chile