Over the summer the University of New Hampshire (UNH) announced their fall semester public health campaign #unhtogether. This campaign offers guidelines for the university community to help one another remain safe and healthy during the coronavirus (COVID-19). While public health and safety during a global pandemic is of extreme importance, the campaign is emphasizing the additional significance of mental health and wellbeing.
One of the key components to #unhtogether campaign is “Wildcats Care.” This portion of the campaign asks students and faculty to, “Practice self-care. Reach out for support” and advises the Wildcat community struggling with mental health to reach out to Psychological and Counseling Services (PACS).
“We all are in this and need to do this together, as a community,” said Kathleen Grace-Bishop, the Director of Education and Promotion for Health and Wellness. “That is what Wildcats do.”
PACS has been working to offer students and faculty in-person and virtual services to meet the needs of their clients for the fall 2020 semester. PACS as a center did not take an active role in the implementation of #unhtogether; however, the Director of PACS, Dr. Shari Robinson, is a member serving on the COVID-19 Senior Management Team. This team reviewed #unhtogether and gave feedback and input before the campaign’s implementation.
For the fall semester, PACS focused on making sure the UNH community knows they are still there to help students and faculty and to make sure the community is aware of the services they are currently offering. PACS has been making a strong, intentional and methodical website presence over the summer so the community is aware of their resources. PACS does have a session limit for individual therapy which is eight appointments per academic year; however, group therapy has no session limits. Group therapy sessions will look a little different this semester. Due to the nature of group therapy, it is difficult to adequately social distance. This service will be offered in an online setting only.
“We do have to maintain session limits for individual therapy because if we don’t, what happens is it becomes a social justice issue,” said Dr. Robinson. “You can service a few students as much as they want, but then what about the rest of the population? Nobody has unlimited resources or an unlimited capacity, so we had to make some decisions on where to place some limits and parameters.”
Tele-mental health was a new service offered by PACS in the spring of 2020 when the campus went online. This service will be continued now and for the years to follow. Tele-mental health has broken a distance barrier between PACS and students who are online, or are on a different campus like Manchester and UNH Law.
PACS is continuing to offer WellTrack which is an online service offered through their website or available in an app format. This tool helps teach management techniques to people who suffer from moderate depression, stress, and anxiety.
A new service for PACS this semester is ProtoCall. ProtoCall is 24/7, 365 day at the hour crisis service. If someone calls ProtoCall they will receive a crisis counselor to talk to who can provide crisis support via the telephone. This counselor will talk to that person in distress for as long as it is needed. This service is available for all UNH students and campuses. PACS will receive a report from the phone call and will follow-up with the student after.
PACS services remain the same but are offered in a hybrid model where some resources can happen both face-to-face and online, but some can only properly be offered virtually for the time being. If a student is non-compliant with current university guidelines, PACS has the right to refuse service for the safety of staff and other students.
“I want students to know that all of the student support services are in full operation,” said Dr. Robinson. “Now, that is going to look different. I think all offices have been told that they need some face-to-face presence, but every unit is doing it slightly different. I want students to know, you pay these fees, so all these services are fully operational. Some of them will be a hybrid model like PACS, and some will have more of an online presence.”