Well-Being, Mental Health and Healing: Resources for CSUN Community to Process Pandemic’s Impact

CSUN’s new Campus Care Recovery Plan was developed to provide resources to help CSUN students, faculty and staff foster resilience and create space to process the pandemic’s impacts.

If there’s anything we’ve learned from the pandemic, it’s that plans can change in an instant. In November, we could not have imagined that spring semester instruction would begin virtually, albeit only temporarily, as students and employees prepared for our return to campus life by practicing wearing real shoes and counting down the number of Zoom meetings left on the calendar. The disappointment is real. The fatigue is real. Loss is real.

“Things have changed, and we’re not going back to what used to be ever again — that’s heavy,” said Shari Tarver Behring, dean of CSUN’s Michael D. Eisner College of Education. “It doesn’t mean it will all be bad, but it will be hard. When you’re under emotional stress, no matter who you are, it impacts your ability to perform optimally. It’s really important for us to understand that this is the state of affairs, and we need to be kind and patient with ourselves and each other.”

CSUN’s new Campus Care Recovery Plan was developed to provide resources to help CSUN students, faculty and staff foster resilience and create space to process the pandemic’s impacts.

The recovery plan — a collaboration between the Eisner College, Institute for Community Health and Wellbeing, Strength United, University Counseling Services and Human Resources — will offer comprehensive education and professional development, clinical services, research, toolkits and a one-stop website to help the campus community.

“Our goal is to help people understand the trauma of what they are going through and then help them identify ways to cope, recover and find resilience,” said Tarver Behring, who is leading and overseeing the plan.

Another feature that will launch this spring is a comprehensive new website consolidating all of CSUN’s mental health, wellness and recovery resources and events into one user-friendly place. In the meantime, faculty and staff can visit the following websites for the latest resources and information:

Institute for Community Health and Wellbeing
University Counseling Services
Strength United
LifeMatters@CSUN – Employee Assistance Program
CSU employees at KinderCare child care
The SUN Program

“Students, like the entire world, have been overwhelmed by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Jennifer Vargas Pemberton, assistant professor in counseling and a faculty liaison and principal investigator for StrengthUnited, a CSUN-chartered center in the Eisner College. She also has more than 25 years of training in trauma and trauma-informed care.

“Due to the losses of friends and loved ones, loss of income, isolation due to stay-at-home orders and changes in learning platforms to virtual education, we are seeing stress-related responses in social and emotional well-being — including increases in anxiety, depression, difficulty with attention and concentration, feeling overwhelmed and stressed due to the continued unpredictable course ahead,” Pemberton said. “These socioemotional factors can also impact academic performance and functioning, making school performance more challenging as well as keeping up with school work.”

CSUN Community Working Together to Support Recovery

According to Tarver Behring, research indicates that 20% of people in the United States have lost a family member or close friend to COVID-19. In addition, CSUN surveys indicate that more than 80% of CSUN students report moderate to severe anxiety since the onset of the pandemic.

To help individuals make sense of loss and trauma, the campus recovery plan features a speaker series on trauma-informed education. The first, held on Nov. 30, featured Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, founder and director of The Trauma Stewardship Institute and author of “Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others,” who spoke about the impacts of trauma and how to take care of yourself. According to Tarver Behring, about 500 people signed up, primarily students, demonstrating the need and desire for support. Other upcoming events include additional workshops, a conference centered on the impact of COVID and resilience, a student multimedia competition focused on poetry, art and song, and more.

The plan allows for the expansion of mental health services for students through University Counseling Services, broadening individual and group therapy, urgent care and same-day rapid-access services, as well as offering additional multiculturally competent faculty counselors, according to Julie Pearce, director of University Counseling Services. In addition, the Institute for Community Health and Wellbeing, under the direction of David Boyns, will provide professional development for faculty on mindfulness and offer mindfulness exercises to help students process their emotions.

To ensure that CSUN is providing the most effective resources to help students and staff, the recovery plan will continue to evolve, informed by follow-up surveys and continued research on COVID’s impact, Tarver Behring said. Also part of the plan, the CSUN community was invited to apply for grants to support educational projects, scholarly research, creative activities and other programmatic initiatives that promote the well-being and campus recovery efforts. Programs that were selected will be implemented this spring semester.


 ‘You’re Not Alone.’

The campus recovery plan emphasizes the need for self-care and prioritizing one’s own mental health.

“Someone once told me, ‘You can’t take care of us if you don’t take care of yourself,” said Kristina de la Vega, associate vice president of human resources. “I encourage all employees to put your health and well-being as a top priority. You can’t be there to support our students and your own families if you’re not taking the time for yourself, especially right now. These resources are ways you can at least spend a few minutes a day or week to focus on yourself.”

She encouraged employees to use the many resources provided by the Employee Assistance Program, Life Matters, including counseling, a 24/7 care center, and comprehensive resources for emotional well-being, relationships, health and finances. Employees can also access childcare tuition discounts. In addition, de la Vega pointed out that trained professionals are available to help facilitate departmental or team meetings to address grief or other difficult issues. She is also working to make the Calm: Sleep & Meditation app available to all employees, including student employees, this spring.

“We want employees to know they are extremely valued and that we appreciate everything they’ve done for our students and their colleagues during this time,” she continued, “You’re not alone. Everyone is struggling in their own unique ways, and we want to be there to help support you. That’s why this Campus Care Recovery Plan was created — to reach out to students and employees and give them the best resources they need right now.”

“Self-compassion and compassion for students, faculty and staff who may not be doing great are so important right now,” Tarver Behring added. “That is the starting point — just recognizing that there is some really stressful stuff happening, and it’s important to be sensitive and aware of that. We hope this new campus care plan will help our community start to recover individually and together as a community.”

, , , ,