Mental health organizations provide telehealth to students amid COVID-19 pandemic

Aug. 17, 2020, 9:44 p.m.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Well-Being at Stanford and the Weiland Health Initiative, among other mental health providers on campus, have moved their healthcare resources completely online in order to remain accessible to students. 

For Well-Being, the process of transitioning their already-made resources online went off without a hitch.

“Fortunately, everything we do is basically able to translate to a virtual environment, so there hasn’t been an interruption in services other than just how things can feel different when they’re not in person,” said Well-Being and Weiland Health Initiative director Inge Hansen. 

Well-Being has partnered with Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), the Confidential Support Team (CST), the Office of Alcohol Policy and Education (OAPE) and the Health and Human Performance (HPP) program in Stanford Medical School to create the Vaden Flourishing Alliance, whose focus is to address “social justice and well being” through mediums like YouTube videos, webinars and websites. The alliance is currently in the process of creating a website that analyzes discrimination and oppression against different demographics.

In addition to converting their classes, workshops, coaching programs and other events into an online format, Well-Being created two websites for Stanford students while they are away from campus. One website contains an extensive list of mental health resources available through Stanford. (This website was included in an email Stanford sent out on Wednesday about the major resources CAPS and Well-Being currently provide.) The other website addresses the increase in harassment and hate crimes against Asians, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders because of the pandemic.

Providing mental health care to students outside of California

Due to the differing telehealth policies between states, some of Stanford’s mental health organizations, or some of the clinicians working in these organizations, may not be licensed to provide care outside of California. These providers vary in the type and amount of healthcare they can provide to out-of-state students depending on the state. 

Well-Being’s clinical team consists of coaches, who specialize in specific aspects of wellness, and nutritionists. Their coaches are allowed to offer services anywhere, including internationally, but their nutritionists have some restrictions.

 “Our dieticians can offer services in any state that allows dietitians registered in California to offer services,” Hansen wrote in an email to The Daily. “For Weiland clinicians … the situation is similar to dietitians.”

Well-Being’s dietitians and Weiland’s clinicians “can still meet with a student via Zoom and offer short-term support, consultation and referral services even if their state does not allow us to offer ongoing clinical services,” Hansen wrote.

CAPS, CST and Weiland will continue offering services to students living on campus and in California, University spokesperson E.J. Miranda wrote in an email to The Daily.

“Given that Kingscote Gardens is currently closed, CST remains committed to meeting the needs of students by responding to same day urgent needs remotely,” Miranda wrote. “However, if students have urgent needs that require an in-person interaction, students should reach out through the CST hotline and a staff member can work to arrange that. Regardless of location, CST is also able to offer initial consultations by Zoom video or phone.”

“CAPS will also maintain on-site staffing at Vaden for students whose needs require an in-person assessment,” Miranda added.

Besides providing services, CAPS is responding to a major issue for out-of-state students: trying to find local healthcare resources that take Cardinal Care insurance. 

“CAPS has contracted with a vendor (The Shrink Space) that has implemented a user-friendly platform for students to search for local providers near the Stanford campus who take a range of insurances, including Cardinal Care,” Miranda wrote. “This vendor has also reached out to several hundred providers in the local Bay Area to ask about their interest in joining the Cardinal Care panel.”  

Mahnoor Hyatt ’20, Robyn Radecki ’21, and Tara Sullivan ’22 are executive co-directors of the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) Mental Health and Wellness committee, which acts as a liaison between mental health organizations on campus and advocates for improved mental health regulations. 

Sullivan said she and her fellow co-directors are trying to ensure that the committee is “intersectional and addresses different populations of students who have historically been left out of the mental health conversation.”

ASSU Mental Health and Wellness hopes to “work towards improved cross-state telehealth policies” in collaboration with other mental health providers “so we can continue to expand care to all students,” Radecki added.

“We’ve met with a few different stakeholders across campus already,” Radecki said. “Everybody is very well-intentioned, and I think everybody really does have the best interest of students in mind, but everything is in the very early stages, so we’re all kind of just getting our footing right now, and hopefully we’ll have more resources and answers as the school year approaches.”

Operating in a virtual environment 

For Well-Being, transitioning to Zoom for coaching sessions, consultations and other formerly in-person activities has proved challenging. Issues such as Zoom fatigue and delays in audio and video transmission can make it harder for participants in a Zoom meeting to stay engaged. 

“We’ve been trying to figure out how to use some of the features, like the chat or breakout rooms and so on, in order to make the meetings more effective,” Hansen said. 

According to Hansen, some of Well-Being’s events work better than others when conducted over Zoom. The coaching programs and “sessions that happen to be more practical or problem-solving oriented” run smoothly, while the training sessions that address “diversity, equity and inclusion” have been harder to run due to the sensitive content they cover. 

“When we’re talking about things like racial justice, it can be really fraught for people and bring up a lot of intense feeling,” Hansen said. “When there’s more emotional content, it’s harder to translate that via video.”

The ongoing Black Lives Matter protests and the fact that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected communities of color have only added to the need for these discussions about racial justice. Professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford Medical Center Debra Kaysen hopes the COVID-19 pandemic will bring awareness to this and other disparities. 

“I think COVID may help us look at factors around inequities, around access to health care, including mental health care and the burden that is placed on communities of color and may give us an opportunity to try to address some of that,” Kaysen said.

Behavioral changes can help improve mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic

According to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. adults are experiencing increased adverse mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression, because of the pandemic. Kaysen works with cognitive behavioral therapies, a form of psychotherapy in which a person recognizes and changes their thoughts and thought processes, which can lead to improved health. 

A strategy to help cope with the pandemic, Kaysen said, is for a person to find activities that make them feel happy and accomplished. Activities that invoke confidence, along with activities that are fun and enjoyable, can help people stay positive. 

Other important parts of a student’s daily routine to benefit mental health are eating a healthy diet and exercising, as well as limiting their media consumption, “even though it’s hard,” Kaysen said.

“It can be tempting right now to try to absorb all this information that’s coming in all the time, but that is associated with higher mental health symptoms,” Kaysen said.

Meditation and other relaxing exercises can be helpful, Kaysen added, as well as the mobile app Covid Coach and other self-care apps developed by the National Centers for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Kaysen said it can be easy to focus on the negative aspects of COVID-19, but it’s important to not get too caught up in all of the pandemic’s problems. 

“I think one of the takeaways is also remembering and thinking about all of the positives,” Kaysen said. “All of the people who put a mask on to protect the other people around them, the health care workers who show up and do their jobs every day knowing that they are increasing their risk … because of their dedication and their calling.”

“For me, that always stays with me, and seeing that on a global scale is really profound,” Kaysen said.

This article has been corrected to reflect that the transition to a virtual environment has been “easy” for Well-Being at Stanford, not for both Well-Being and Weiland Health Initiative. Furthermore, the website analyzing oppression and discrimination against different demographics is being created by the Vaden Flourishing Alliance, not Well-Being at Stanford. The Daily regrets these errors.

Contact Medha Sarin at medhasarin1 ‘at’

Medha Sarin is a high schooler writing as part of The Daily’s Summer Journalism Workshop.

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