Putting students on our radar [who are struggling] doesn’t get them in trouble. It helps connect them to a network of support.

Mary Commerford, Director, Rosemary Furman Counseling Center

Every year, World Mental Health Day (October 10) addresses a different issue. This year’s theme — to increase investment in mental health — is a direct response to the intersecting issues that may have endured, or increased, as a result of COVID-19, such as social isolation and loneliness, the grief of losing a loved one, social/racial injustice, and economic consequences. Back in April, to address these needs within the community, Barnard produced a video titled “Feel Well, Do Well: Coping with COVID” with the director of the Rosemary Furman Counseling Center Mary Commerford. In the video, Commerford discussed the psychological impact of the virus, offered strategies to cope, and shared resources for the community.

Mary Commerford, Director, Rosemary Furman Counseling Center

Through Furman, students have always been able to receive direct help for improved mental well-being and access resources such as group workshops and therapy sessions. To learn more about how students can stay mentally healthy for the remainder of 2020, read the “5 Questions With …” Commerford below, which also includes a trove of online resources and handy apps:

As students settle into the semester, how can they stay focused on academics and remain mentally healthy while also navigating feelings around the pandemic and racial injustice?

The important thing is to find things that work for them. Sometimes people get a list of “shoulds,” things they “should” be doing, and it becomes oppressive.

First, I’d recommend immediately thinking about work/play balance. The research on motivation indicates that motivation ebbs as we push ourselves to do things, like attend Zoom classes. The things that resupply motivation and enthusiasm are sleep, glucose, and play! So, taking a break, doing something fun —whether it’s watching Netflix, taking a socially distanced walk with a friend, painting,  eating something delicious, getting a good night’s rest — whatever is restful and restoring for you will actually help you work harder. Breaks aren’t avoidance and laziness — they are essential to successful and effective work.

In terms of managing the stress of both COVID-19 and racial injustice, people are being constantly bombarded and wounded. Take a break from the news, social media, things that trigger a stress response. Let yourself come to a calmer place. Research shows it can take up to 48 hours of relaxation to fully detox and restore a calmer body chemistry after painful or traumatic incidents.  

Also, fix up your workspace. The Center for Engaged Pedagogy offers a wonderful set of guidelines for this.  
Finally, social connections are key to our mental health. Connect with people, either virtually or socially distanced in person.  

What are some virtual resources that the Furman Center is offering as a result of our circumstances, and what should students do if they’re in an emergency?

We have great online support for coping with COVID-19, racial injustice, panic attacks, and test anxiety, including apps for self-care, which can be found on our website. These include:

  • Free, short-term therapy
  • Free evaluation for medications
  • Urgent (same-day) appointments — just indicate the need when calling
  • An After-Hours Psychological Emergency Line: 855-622-1903
  • Free support groups

And for students who may be part of a marginalized group?

Furman is committed to social justice and we believe that oppression and being targeted can severely impact mental health. The realities of racial injustice, anti-Blackness, and racial disparities have plagued our society long before the COVID-19 pandemic. Below are some resources, also listed on our website, to promote healing, advocacy, and self-care during a time of ongoing uncertainty and unrest:

Healing Spaces

Furman’s site lists several free mental wellness and healthcare apps. How and why are they helpful?

Meditation and mindfulness practices help people “surf the waves” of stress in life or even find the peaceful depths underneath the turbulence. However, if people are highly stressed, agitated, or upset, meditation and mindfulness may not be the best option in that moment. A more active stress-management tool would require self-distraction, like exercising or talking with a friend, both of which could be more relieving.  

I share a list of apps in our Coping with COVID video here

As students “push through” the semester, balancing work with play, relaxation, and restoration is key to a successful semester, especially a virtual one.


How can students help? 

Finding ways to give back or volunteer helps to underline that we have things to give and make a difference, which helps our mental health. There are many volunteer options through Beyond Barnard, Student Life, and Well-Woman. Students living in New York City can also look into New York Cares, which offers many volunteer opportunities, even during the pandemic. Again, an important element in finding a way to give back is to find something that is interesting and meaningful for you. No one needs another “should” on their to-do list each day. Any volunteer activity should bring some sense of fulfillment or pleasure.  

If you’re worried about a classmate, you can refer them to Furman, let a dean or advisor know, or tell someone in Res Life. Putting students on our radar [who are struggling] doesn’t get them in trouble. It helps connect them to a network of support.