Catching up with the Clinical/Community students at the forefront of COVID-19

Date

05/10/20

On March 14th, a group of students from the Clinical/Community program released “COVID-19 Mental Health Resources,” a comprehensive guide for University students as well as the broader Urbana-Champaign community. 

The document was one of the first campus-wide to address important issues such as mental health, connectedness, self-care, safety, grief, and distress.

We decided to reach out to learn more about the dedicated students involved, their experiences with this project as well as their thoughts going forward.

 

 

Why did you choose to remain anonymous on the document?

  1. We started this project with the intention that our work was and remains to be for our local community and beyond. Neither ownership, nor credit, was front of mind. Instead, we prioritized guidance towards well-being for as many as possible amidst such an intense, bizarre, and scary time. Anonymity has the added benefit of protecting those that engage with it. We are uniquely aware of historical stigma related to pursuing and utilizing mental health resources. Additionally, and unfortunately, this global event has been complicated by unprecedented assumptions, stigma, and judgment. With this in mind, our goal was to make this resource as widely accessible and applicable as possible while protecting the privacy of our community.

  2. We weren’t concerned with our names; that wasn’t the point. We were working under the head of the department (Dr. Wendy Heller) and director of clinical training (Dr. Ben Hankin), and it’s powerful to develop a document that represents what the Psychology Department as a whole might stand for and promote. Being in academia, there are documents for which we’ll strongly advocate for our names being printed somewhere. In this case, the document was made to be a community resource, and our work on it was a University service. 

  3. The spirit of signing up for and continuing to work on the document was that we wanted to serve the community and so our names were irrelevant.

What inspired you to work on such an essential and comprehensive project?

  1. The UIUC Psychology Department showed leadership in initiating this project and we are grateful for such awareness. Personally, I couldn’t help but direct my attention and research to Covid-19 and the response to the crisis anyway - regardless of this project. I figured, I have invested a great deal of time into this and if others can benefit from the fruits of my curiosity and love for data then, I am all in. Also, as part of the Clinical-Community Psychology department, it felt imperative to serve those around us in any way we were able. We had the clear opportunity to serve our community in a tangible way in the face of the Covid-19 situation. The comprehensive nature of this work came from our team of three. The awareness, poise, and maturity that our team demonstrated while digging deep into intense material was more than impressive. We explored multiple perspectives and experiences that one may have during this time and attempted to synthesize our brainstorming into a manageable and consumable format.

  2. I was just glued to the news (the advice to limit news exposure time and to focus on consulting a few key resources was certainly not advice I was following around spring break). I wanted to take the time and energy I had put into this simmering worry and use it to contribute to something that might be useful. Also, the opportunity to work with other students in our division to think through this crisis was hugely motivating; fellow UIUC students always teach me so much.

  3. We were asked and we answered the call. But, I suppose that we could have been less thorough. It really seemed to me that all three of us were hopeful about an opportunity to do something that could be meaningful for our community. Often during this process it has felt like we were pretty stuck not being able to help others – which is tough because that motivates so much of the work we do. This project gave us the chance to dive into doing just that!

Has anything about this experience surprised you?

  1. I was and continue to be surprised by the amount of feedback we received. This community came alive with gratitude, pursuit of further resources, and constructive feedback. It was really inspiring to see how many people were engaging with the document. Also, working with the others has been a dream and it was such a great opportunity for all of us to collaborate. 

  2. All the home workout videos the others found. Just kidding. Kind of. I mean, did you know you could follow a video to walk a mile in your bedroom? Also, seeing the IRB use the document as a recommended resource for studies that address COVID-19 was a very nice surprise. I was working on an IRB amendment, and the IRB suggested that we use a document on their website as a resource to participants. I followed the link to see that the thing I needed to include as a research assistant was the resource we made. I texted the others right away - it was a moment when it felt like we had made something that was actually getting out there, and that had a tangible use.

  3. Honestly, the reception! I didn’t expect for it to be so well received. Also, how fun it has been. I have loved teaming up with the others and it has been fun to have collaboration across years in the program.

Has this journey influenced your thoughts about the local community or University?

  1. This community and the University has shown such leadership in the COVID-19 response. In a time of physical isolation, it is important to feel supported by those around you and I find myself feeling far more connected through this process. 

  2. As a first year, I didn’t know that the Department would create this kind of resource, or that the Department would monetarily support students’ time to do so. That sent a message about the importance of creating something for our community. Getting connected to our community was, from the get-go, a strong recommendation from my academic advisor, Dr. Mark Aber, again showing that this is a value here. Watching "#3", especially, make many connections with local resources, and have great familiarity with these partners was both educational (like, yes, good to know [xyz] resource exists) and motivating. It was inspiring and helpful to see a bit of how an older student had made these connections her own priority. 

  3. I have been fortunate to have a really active role in helping with access to community resources and initiatives during my five years here, especially with training in the community aspect of our program. So I suppose my thinking didn’t change much. However, I do think I was surprised by how quick agencies and community members jumped into action. It was pretty neat to see how quickly agencies adapted their services to meet current needs. It shows that our community is flexible, resilient, and compassionate.

How do you think this process will shape your career path or interests?

  1. Gathering local resources within a global pandemic has drawn me into thinking about social problems more globally. 

  2. I think it just further goes to show the importance of the work we do and the way we are trained. Our training helps us to use science as a powerful tool to help empower our community and improve wellness. It also teaches us to communicate directly with our community rather than only communicating to academia. These skills are unique and especially helpful during times like this.

Please share a coping strategy you use or advise.

  1. This may be too general, but I stand by this: Do whatever it is that makes this time feel a little bit better. Every societally engaged individual marinates in social pressures and expectations, constantly. If you want to eat that piece of cake, do it.  If you want to try to get to the bottom of Netflix, do it. If you want to run for 26.2 miles, do it. Ultimately, people are, and always do, react to situations in different ways - respect yourselves when exploring what that means for you, this is a difficult time. My go-to coping strategy is cooking an elaborate meal for me and my fiancé. In this shelter-at-home order, I find myself energized by morning yoga, outdoor runs, singing loudly in the shower, and dancing in the kitchen. 

  2. Working during our Zoom meetings/classes, I have crocheted three small dinosaurs, two shawls, one bird, and a scarf. I will now learn to play the ukulele via the University’s pandemic-inspired, free ukulele classes

  3. Gardening...lots of gardening.

What do you believe will be some positive changes in behavior coming out of this “COVID lifestyle?”

  1. It is hard to predict how behavior will take form in the reintegration and/or normalizing process. I hope to see more laughter and less distraction when people are together. We live in an age of technology and, do not get me wrong I depend on it, but to see people at dinner separately staring at their respective devices is cringeworthy to me. I want to see people be with who you are with. Maybe after this time we won't be as technologically glued when socializing. Maybe we won’t continue to take physical connection for granted. I think there has been an immense amount of creativity shown by those in my community. People learning new skills, creating new art, reigniting old passions. This is beautiful and there is so much joy in seeing what someone else has created. Also, the relief for the planet is hard to overlook. I hope to see reconsideration from larger corporations about how to address their carbon footprints through employment requirements/standards post Covid-19. 

  2. After this pandemic, we’ll still be in a climate crisis - we can expect more disruptions. I hope that some of the changes regarding supporting undergraduates and, especially, being more flexible with them remain. I also hope we have a greater appreciation for ripple effects across social problems, how connected so many problems in living are, and the critical need for clear and scientifically-supported public health messaging. 

  3. I hope there is a greater appreciation from people with more privilege/those that are more fortunate for the challenges that impact people experiencing poverty every day. It has been interesting to watch people that have grown used to stability learn about the process of unemployment and have to rebalance their lifestyle. I hope it inspires greater compassion and empathy but also is a powerful experiential motivator to enacting policies that increase equity in our society.