Students and Counseling and Psychological Services staff alike are trying a new approach to helping people discuss and deal with mental health and mental illness.
iCare, a new initiative by CAPS, is intended to integrate a variety of different approaches through eight-hour workshops to help further the mental health conversation on campus.
The workshops, one for students held in April and an upcoming one this Saturday for faculty, have many different components including, general education about the stigma surrounding mental illness, discussion of CAPS as a resource, a workshop on active listening, as well as extensive role play and mindfulness meditation. The day-long training is free and open to any student or faculty member.
Michael Accardo , co-chair of the CAPS Student Advisory board, explained that at April’s workshop, “we talked about campus culture, some of the struggles people deal with, how it is hard to breach the mental health stigma and how we respond to all of this.”
“A lot of people deal with serious mental health issues and ... the workshop aimed to [help] when someone comes up to you and says they need help,” Accardo added.
He said that an integral part of the April workshop was the active-listening portion, where students learned how to properly check in with others, understand what they’re saying and appropriately respond.
“I can’t imagine how much greater the Penn community would function as a whole if everyone had an idea of [active listening] or how it functioned because the conversations become so much more beneficial to everyone involved,” Accardo said.
The program teaches a compilation of skills that CAPS has previously taught and deemed “critically important,” said Meeta Kumar , the director for outreach and intervention services at CAPS.
“This is an intensive immersion connecting a lot of basic to advanced knowledge around college mental health,” Kumar said. “It’s basically a composite of different training that we’ve used in the past to train faculty, staff, students and leaders.”
Kumar added that the program is primarily intended for educating Penn students and staff.
“We want to educate people a bit more, make them knowledgeable about ... [the] signs and symptoms of normal stress, distress and crisis,” Kumar said.
Accardo also explained how the workshop taught students how to handle talking to a friend who has mental issues by responding to exactly what they’re saying, “instead of trying to solve their problems or enforce your own experience on theirs.”
“Everybody’s different and everyone’s problems are different — it can be hurtful if you tell them exactly what they need to do,” Accardo said.
The workshop is intended to educate and give people more familiarity with situations that may arise when dealing with mental health, Kumar said. Role-play scenarios at the workshop included calling Penn Police, contacting CAPS for a consultation or talking to a friend who may be suicidal.
“The role-play scenarios were intended for using the tools we just learned with each other — you could jump in and be the person responding or the person dealing with something,” Accardo said. “We’d pause if someone got stuck and ask the group what they’d say here. We sat down to re-evaluate and see what was said and how the person felt about it.”
Accardo said that some of the most helpful parts were the feedback from others, as well as the time to discuss one’s personal mental health.
“People who are always hearing [others’] problems are pretty worn down ... because they’re constantly worrying about if others are okay or getting better,” Accardo said. “All those worries can escalate unless you know how to take care of yourself.”
With an attendance of approximately 50 people during the April session as well as positive feedback from students, Kumar explained that CAPS hopes to organize more training sessions in future years.
“It was nice to walk [students] through these steps and get to a place where they felt so much more comfortable doing them,” Kumar said. “We don’t want people to feel like they have to come out feeling super confident or perfect, but just a little more comfortable.”
Ultimately, Kumar and Accardo stressed that the event is intended to properly equip students to help those around them.
“It’s taking the step to help someone who might be stressed by reducing their isolation and making them knowledgeable about their resources and seeking help,” Kumar said.