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Protecting Your Mental Health: University Counseling Center Director Offers Tips

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Protecting Your Mental Health: University Counseling Center Director Offers Tips

Editor’s Note: The following is an op-ed written by Dr. Scott Miller, director of the University Counseling Center on the OU Norman campus.

The World Health Organization has declared that COVID is no longer a “public health emergency of international concern.” It was three years ago when the world was hit by the pandemic, shredding normalcy for everyone in its wake and impacting everyone’s mental health. Many colleges and universities found the influence COVID-19 had on school and college-age students had lasting health impacts — some physical, other psychological. Now, as college students are still fighting to regain their mental solitude, another issue endemic to the times is shown threats to the safety of campus.

While the incident that occurred on the campus of the University of Oklahoma Norman campus on April 7 proved to be a hoax — it was deemed an event called “swatting” — the feelings the OU community felt were not. The students who barricaded themselves in university buildings, ran to find cover, hid in a dark room, or texted loved ones trying to see if they were safe all experienced a form of trauma.

Students around the country are also dealing with similar feelings. This flood of emotions has been felt across the country, with more than 100 schools falling prey to active shooters on campus in the past three years. The stream of media on their phones constantly showing headlines of mass shooting events has promoted a mental health emergency of students and their loved ones.

At OU, students are reminded that there are several ways to help them deal with a traumatizing event. We want to ensure all our students that they are not going through this ordeal alone.

Meet Basic Needs

Those going through trauma can help support themselves by remembering to take these steps:

Sleep – Try to get eight hours of sleep, or the amount that makes you comfortable.

Eat Healthy – Avoid overly greasy or sugary foods and eat nourishing foods.

Exercise – Whether it is taking a short walk, going for a run, playing a sport, or going to the gym, any kind of physical activity can help.

Limit Time on Your Phone – Putting your phone on do not disturb and take a break from constantly taking in information from media or social media apps. Social media may include fake information, making the feelings associated with trauma worse.

Supportive Actions

Reach Out – If you know of someone who is at high risk of being impacted by trauma, reach out to them. Ask if they are well and offer a way for them to contact you or a safe place if they ever need it.

Find an Expert – Contact an organization at your university, place of employment or in your community that specializes in mental health. If you are an OU student, faculty or staff member and are experiencing difficulty, please contact your campus counseling services (Norman, Health Sciences Center, OU-Tulsa). If you are a student, please feel free to reach out to a student life or centralized student affairs team member at your respective campus. Faculty and staff may also seek assistance through our Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

Be Mindful – After a mass shooting or a swatting event such as occurred on campus, be cognizant that some individuals may be severely affected for a period of time, so be flexible with deadlines when possible.

Peer and Family Support

Communicate – Reach out to friends and loved ones to make sure they feel safe and are emotionally sound. Communicate the importance of self-care and other ways to deal with stress.

Let Them Lead – After a trauma-inducing event, let those most impacted lead the conversation on it. Do not ask too many questions about the event, as they may not be ready to talk about it yet. Just let them know you are there for them any time.

Share Other Ways of Support – If you notice your friend or loved one struggling consistently after the event, encourage them to reach out to resources that could provide them support.

With the constant stream of troubling news, along with threats, targeting the safety and security of colleges and universities across the world, we must continue doing everything in our power to support each other and our students.

Just as communities were encouraged to work together three years ago to combat the pandemic, we must work as a unified community today to help students feel safe and supported on our campuses.

By Dr. Scott Miller, director of the University Counseling Center, OU Norman campus

Article Published: Wednesday, May 17, 2023