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SpartanDO Expert Take 2020-09

The SpartanDO Expert Take blog series examines the intersection of applied osteopathic medicine and culturally relevant issues. Each blog post will feature the perspective of a faculty member, alumni, or student associated with the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine.


September 30, 2020

This month we feature John Taylor, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist and the director of  Wellness & Counseling services in the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine. His areas of expertise include clinical and pediatric psychology. He was previously a staff psychologist at the MSU Counseling Center and has wide experience treating student populations. Learn more about Dr. Taylor.

 

Think of it as a “wellness check-in”: how reframing, volunteering, and a self-assessment can improve your mental health wellness

Psychologist offers strategies and resources to address rising depression and anxiety

You’re not alone, and your problems are valid. 2020 has presented an unrelenting series of stressors for all of us: a global pandemic, social upheaval, political unrest, disruptions to school and social routines, fear, and loss. For some, especially BIPOC and lower-income communities, the list of challenges is longer and the mental health impact greater. But 2020 is also the exact moment to practice our mind/body osteopathic approach—for ourselves and for those around us.

Dr. Taylor, a licensed psychologist and director of wellness and counseling services for the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine, explains that as osteopathic physicians, they understand that “mental health is interdependent with physical health. You can only achieve your best physical health to the extent you have stable mental health.” At a time when every day can feel grueling, it’s more important than ever to assess your own mental health and take steps to support your wellness and that of those around you by reaching out if you need help and reaching out to others to make sure they’re ok.

According to Taylor, counselors across college sites “are seeing increased rates of depression and anxiety, relationship and family conflicts, alcohol abuse, increased apathy along with reduced motivation for school, fear of loved ones contracting COVID-19 (or exposing others), as well as deaths and loss further complicated by students and families not being able to participate in services.” He notes that “there has been a significant increase this year, particularly with our first year students, who have not been able to enjoy the usual experiences or social rituals” that buffer some of the stressors typical of medical school. Compounding this is the political, racial and social upheaval in our society. Taylor reports that many students he has talked to also have been affected by the deaths of individuals such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the Black Lives Matter movement and more. These events, along with the political situation, he says has “generated a great deal of angst, pain, sadness and frustration which has impacted students’ capacity to focus,” especially for BIPOC students and community members.

Dr. Taylor offers several ways to deal with and mitigate this amplified stress:

  • Acknowledge your stress - Recognizing that something needs to be adjusted to better support your stress management is key.
  • Assess your wellness routines - As you get busier, regular exercise, healthy nutrition, and sleep are typically among the first to slip away. Making a conscious effort to bring these self-care activities back into your daily routine will help improve your mood.
  • Be flexible and innovative - If it’s not possible to practice your “usual” routine, such as working out in a gym, look for other ways to exercise, such as outdoor yoga or riding a bike. Accept the situation as an opportunity to try out something new. The same is true for social experiences—look for ways you can stay social with friends, such as hosting a virtual dinner party.
  • Set up “wellness check-ins” - “We need to constantly nurture our mental health,” reminds Taylor. “Don’t feel like your problems aren’t ‘big enough.’” Figuring out mental health wellness solutions may require seeking help, which Taylor likes to call “wellness check-ins.” Whether this means reaching out to a friend, faculty member, or for professional Wellness and Counseling services (for on-site counseling or referrals), your road to wellness starts with an e-mail, phone call, or text message. (Find more resources below.)
  • Reframe your experiences - A helpful way to improve your situation is to reframe how you’re thinking about it. For example, reframe the challenges of the pandemic as a once in a lifetime event. “Don’t let [the pandemic] define your goals and dreams—these adverse experiences can add compassion to your practice as a physician,” Taylor adds. “Focus on what you’re grateful for and what you can control. Take it day by day, and remember why you chose this career—remember your dedication and commitment to helping and healing others.”
  • Help others - Volunteering can make you feel better, and take your mind off your own problems. As osteopathic students, volunteering is also a good way to model mental health wellness on campus and within the larger community. There are many opportunities on and off campus to share your compassion and skills, including:

These strategies are important to practice year-round, and are especially promoted during September, which is Suicide Prevention Month. “Everyone has a stake in mental health wellness,” Taylor explains. “As professional counselors, we play a role in providing support and education, but it takes a community.” Taylor stresses that there is an urgent need to encourage help-seeking behavior among medical students, residents, and physicians, as there is a tendency to minimize the need for help. Indeed, stigma and fear of negative judgment by superiors are among reasons many are reluctant to seek help for their mental health issue. (Fore more information, check out posts related to #keepgoing, #mentalhealthmatters, and #jedcares.)

“Don’t let [the pandemic] define your goals and dreams—these adverse experiences can add compassion to your practice as a physician.

To better support the mental health needs of medical students, several intiatives have begun within the college, including 90 SpartanDO Peer Mentors completing a Question-Persuade-Refer (QPR) Gatekeeper Suicide Prevention training, and the launch of the  CoreWellness program: a series of 25-minute, online modules students complete on their own followed by engagement in class-facilitated discussions with peers and faculty. Results have been positive so far: students have reported knowledge gains from the curriculum.

In closing, Taylor advises, “It’s when we lose sight of the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel that we may begin to lose heart. In reaching this point it’s important to recognize that we have to identify other things we can do for ourselves and others to stay the course.”

As you continue through the 2020-2021 academic year, find ways to stay the course, and check out the resources below if you need help.

Mental health resources

  • Wellness & Counseling Services for College of Osteopathic Medicine students
    • Email Dr. John Taylor at taylo520@msu.edu
    • Contact the CARE team at COM.MSUCOMCARETeam@msu.edu
    • Wellness & Counseling services have expanded! Amy Kim and Mary Katherine Burnett are new counselors who are available to see students for mental health therapy and assist with other support referrals.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • American Association for Suicide Prevention
  • Download this Virtual Care Kit from MSU Counseling and Psychiatric Services
  • Contact your local community mental health center.
  • Seek out telehealth options: many mental health providers are offering telehealth visits during the pandemic to expand access to treatment and care.
  • Psychiatry services through MSU’s Department of Psychiatry are available for adults, adolescents, children, college students, young adults, and the elderly with a wide variety of mental health disorders.
  • Current MSU students can access campus Counseling and Psychiatric Services.
  • Current MSU employees can find additional resources through the Employee Assistance Program.

Have a suggestion for an upcoming blog post you’d like to see? Submit it to robin905@msu.edu.