Interviewer: Tony Wang
What can students expect out of the CARE assessment process? (In other words, how are you different from the Counseling Center and how do you work together?)
So we are the single portal of entry for the counseling center among other things. So in essence, in order to get an appointment through the counseling center, you must go through CARE. But I want to be clear: That’s not all we do; that’s only one of the functions we serve. For anyone who wants to get counseling at the STAMPS center or Georgia Tech counseling center, they come through us first. We are all licensed therapists. We do an assessment and we look at whether the student should be referred to the counseling center. Would long term therapy work? Does this person need psychiatry. That sort of thing. We pretty much triage everything.
What other resources do you refer students to?
We have students coming in saying that they don’t necessarily need psychiatric help; they just want a positive environment. We also refer people to veteran’s affairs that are veterans. They are kind of an overlooked community at Tech. People who need financial assistance such as food and security issues. People who are looking to socially link with others. Referrals to the dean’s office and referrals to the office of disability rights. We work hand in hand with VOICE. VOICE works with sexual violence survivors. I work a lot at Health Initiatives, which is at the STAMPS building, which focuses on programs for student health. And the list goes on. There are a lot of great resources at campus. We try to give a good assessment of the student and like them to stuff at Georgia Tech or any surrounding communities.
How has working at GT been different than working in other settings?
I have worked in a lot of settings. I was a private practitioner for 15 years. I’ve worked at some universities and have done consulting and contract work at some universities. I have worked in mental health for a long time about 28 years. I know I look very young, but don’t let that fool you. One thing I think is unique at CARE is that it really is state of the art in terms of having a referral agency that is embedded in the university. A lot of times, at other universities, you just go to the counseling center, and the counseling center can refer you. But that takes a lot of time. A lot of outpatient clinical therapists aren’t really in tune with what’s going on or what resources are available on campus. For us, we are all licensed therapists with a history of providing therapy, and during the assessment, there is some situational counseling, but our goal is to provide a holistic perspective of what is going on with the student and link them up with services that can help. So students can come and just say “I’m feeling very stressed”, which is quite common here. So we try to help the student determine what caused the stress and what’s going on. What positive buffers that are helping you hold you up? Has there been any history of stress? There’s a lot of questions we ask. When someone says they are stressed, we try to quantify that and find what the roots really are. Because sometimes, it might be academics, but other times, it might be “I’m isolating myself”, “I’m too self critical”, “I got competitiveness with other students”, “I don’t spend enough time with my girlfriend”. There’s a lot of things that are really compounding that. We try to figure that out and try to find resources. Like I said we are really like preventive intervention and there is some intervention, but there is a big preventiveness part as well. So we do a thorough assessment and ask a lot of questions. Because, 9 times out of 10, there are things we can refer the student to that they weren’t even aware of when they first came to CARE.
I guess short story; Georgia Tech is very unique in the services it provides. We have been really popular. The first day last fall, they had no idea what this would be like. We got 40 students showing up the first day. We got roughly 140 the first week. It all played out from August to December, where school ended. About 1000 students came in total, which is very impressive. Spring has come in par with that. So the system is very well used and received.
In your opinion, how has the stigma around mental health and resources on campus negatively impacted student treatment?
Good question. We had this discussion recently. So behavioral health stigma is being shifted all the time, which I think is great. 10 or 20 years ago, not a lot of students would use this service, because they did not like to talk about mental health which was supposed to be private. And it still is private, the services we provide are confidential and we follow FERPA, so it is a private thing and people don’t really talk about it much. Like all social issues, it is being discussed more and more. So I would say with this generation of students, there is less stigma that I have seen than in recent years. I think in part this is due to apps such as relaxation and mental health apps. Mental health is presented differently in film and pop culture, which I think is great. A lot of people have been talking about it – I think it’s been 4-5 years ago Jay Z came out about going to therapy. And there are a lot of singers and actors coming out about it as well. People looking at therapy as a therapeutic coach rather than a medical model. Back then in the medical model, it was looked more as a sickness. And that is not a good way to look at it. Now that’s not the norm. People are taking a lot more time to care for their mental health.
The thought in the past was that “You just suck it up” for anxiety and depression, and that still somewhat applies in the present, but it used to be exhaustion and people really falling apart and not doing well and affecting their lives. So people now are doing a better job looking to get a sense of balance. When you are a student, it’s regardless easier said than done, but I see a lot of students now prioritizing that. And I think that’s great that so many students are showing up.
How can students reverse this stigma?
Just keep doing what they’re doing; it’s working! I kind of touched upon that earlier, but really just seek a sense of balance. A sense of balance is really important in your life in general. You know, it’s like “Work Hard; Play Hard”. I see a lot of students need a lot more recreation. Georgia Tech students are brilliant and are doing wonderful stuff, but sometimes they forget to take care of themselves in the process. So it is very important that students still strive for balance and seek help when they need help. Sometimes look at the holistic view. Like maybe you don’t need therapy, but instead you need to eat properly. The health trifecta: If you’re sleeping off, if your eating is off, if your exercising is off – if anything is off – it is probably going to throw other things off emotionally and mentally. So those things are very important, and Georgia Tech has a lot of resources for that such as nutritional counseling, the CRC, which is an amazing facility. We have a pool from the Olympics there. So that’s a lot of the reason why we ask students these questions; we want to look at the holistic view such as drinking and social life. The health stuff will certainly impact your psychologically if for a long time.
What are some of the biggest mental health concerns that have come from the
Stress and anxiety. Certainly. We are blessed to have a lot of international students and they are wonderful, and that puts them on a whole nother level. The virus impacted a lot of people. A lot of them come from other countries that have been impacted by it before we were. We were hearing about it a lot before it was really making it over here in the news. Not just stress for yourself, but like stress for other places where your family is such as China, Europe, or India. That’s been part of a lot of stress with the students.
Additionally, social isolation. A lot of students had internships in places such as New Zealand, so they did not sign up for summer classes. They couldn’t make it to their internships, so they’re stuck in Atlanta with no classes. So they’re living in an apartment by themselves and not going out to see people. So social anxiety and stress and uncertainty about what the fall in school is going to be like.
Can students still call CARE during this pandemic and receive care?
Absolutely and they have been. The process currently is, since we were walk-in from 8 to 5 before. You would do the electronic assessment and you would see someone that day, or it could be you fill that out at 4pm and you see someone the next day. Or we work it around your schedule. The way it is now; students can call whatever time. The admin will check the phone. Then they will call clinical case workers such as myself. Then we will send over the paperwork where they can access it online and it’s confidential and very secure. They will fill that up and we will set up a Bluejeans meeting. We would conduct that meeting like we would in an office. And if someone wants to go to psychiatric help, we can write a referral to STAMPS and more. It’s been very successful; it’s worked beyond our expectations and just as good as in person meetings.
What if they are not actively enrolled in classes in the summer?
So this summer, we have been doing the right thing. Typically you need to be enrolled to access our services, but because no one planned for this to happen, and our goal is to help the students, we still help them. We’re still providing services and doing all of that.
How can students access CARE resources remotely?
So that process I stated earlier. Call the office, leave a message, the admin will get back to you and ask for your info, the admin will contact clinical case managers. We will reach out via phone or email because we will send the links or paperwork. Do the paperwork and enter it into the system. We will then set up a Bluejeans meeting and do the assessment. We will then email the outcome. Once you do an assessment, you can always reach out back to us. If other needs come up such as meeting the dean or ADHD testing or more, it’s now much easier since you are now in the system. You could just call and ask for the clinical case manager without doing the additional paperwork.
What is your favorite Georgia Tech tradition?
I don’t know; I just like showing up! It’s been great! I’ve been at Georgia Tech for only a year, but I love it. The students are outstanding; I’ve enjoyed campus and have been very active. I’ve met a lot of people. I’m going to miss eating lunch at the Campanile everyday outside when on campus. So you know, seeing the Ramblin’ Wreck on the sidewalks; I always saw that as very interesting. I’ve been to plenty of other universities; I have never seen a car riding on a sidewalk. The first time I saw that, I was like “What is that”. Then I got closer and found out. So I thought that was neat how they do that. I do like the Ramblin’ Wreck. And I was behind the Ramblin’ Wreck in Starbucks on Spring Street so that was kind of funny. So you know, it gets around.
Do you have any suggestions for how students can take care of their mental health on their own?
Number 1 is just the health trifecta. It’s copyrighted by me, so make sure you credit me when you use it! Just kidding. But yeah, sleeping, eating and exercise. Super important for everyone. It is mega important for students to keep their balance and stress low. I try to remind a lot of students: “Be proud of yourself.” A lot of students lose track of that; I mean, you are Georgia Tech, and you earned it! It’s not an easy university to get into. And there can be this kind of competitive nature, and I try to remind people that “You can’t forget your own process and journey that got you here. You are clearly intelligent and hard working.” But a lot of folks forget that, and I try to remind them of that. Like I get it to a point, but you have to remind yourself that you are in a room with other smart, hard working people not just from Atlanta but from places such as Russia, China, and India. It’s a global community, and that’s great; you’re there with people from all over. A lot of valedictorians, you know what I mean? I see it happen to a lot of students, so it’s important to stay in touch with that part of yourself. Keep your goals in mind and remind yourself that you’ve done amazing things to get here.
What are some ways to relax and have fun during this time?
Well, you have to be creative. Exercise is very important, and I have told students – and I practice what I preach; I walk to Midtown and campus all the time. I’ve been a fan of the fitbit for some time. I have told people literally that I have walked 5 miles in my parking deck – I’m not kidding! I know what it’s like to walk 20 flights of stairs. So you have to be creative with that. I think having some element of exercise is important even if it’s just old school such as push ups and situps. Also, try having a schedule. For example, try to have a time when you go to sleep. I’m going to get up, have a shower, eat breakfast, see how the day goes, and then I might have Netflix. But to try to balance your work and night. For some folks, they get up and sleep whenever. They don’t really shower consistently timewise. They start their day out with Netflix; that will all impact your day later. So if you can have some schedule and also build in time for exercise and chill such as listening to music and watching TV. Also, go to your hobbies. Middle of the day, reward yourself such as reading or playing music for an hour. Then go back to work. Social life as well. Take your time to be social especially if you’re feeling isolated. Call someone via phone or Zoom. Or, walk 5 miles in a parking deck everyday!
Do you have any specific initiatives you are involved in on campus?
I definitely try to volunteer a lot on campus. I’m the Well Being Director on CARE, which is a wellness program for staff. And then I would say us, a little better than other departments, we partner with pretty much all departments. We are pretty ubiquitous on campus. Everything from athletics to professors to the Dean’s office, the CRC, Health Initiatives, psychiatry, women’s center, LGBTQIA, veterans, pretty much you name it – we’re involved with them. We partner with everyone and have relationships with everyone on campus.