Mental and emotional health came to the forefront of people's minds during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nevada and the University of Nevada, Reno campus was no exception. And what was realized throughout Nevada and the country is that mental and emotional health needs have skyrocketed.
As Mental Health Awareness Month, celebrated in May, is now behind us, people are advised that staying aware all year long is important.
"It's great to raise awareness for the month; mental health is a 24/7/365 reality, we work it full time," Yani Dickens, director of Counseling Services in Student Services, said. "So, it's good for people to make it a part of their everyday lives."
The core purpose of Mental Health Awareness Month, begun in 1949 in the United States, is to make people aware of a variety of mental health topics and to equip people with helpful and potentially life-saving information and resources. At the University, employees are reminded they have health benefits that include counseling and other helpful resources.
"Our employees are eligible to receive services through Mountain EAP (employee assistance program) if they need help through life's difficult moments," Raeven Johnson, employee relations manager in the BCN/Human Resources Department, said. "They've been working with us as providers for the past five years for life skills and counseling for employees."
EAPs are designed to help employees deal with personal problems that impact their health and well-being and includes short-term counseling and referral services. Mountain EAP offers in-person counseling, online sessions and self-help for a variety of topics. They have a mobile app that offers additional resources.
"They are completely confidential and are independent of the University," Johnson said. "Having a local provider has an advantage for employees – when services are needed now, you get them faster, and they are hiring new providers to meet the demands. They are very aligned with our expectations. They have a sense of urgency just as we do, and that's a benefit for our employees, especially as we wanted the more personal approach we get with Mountain EAP."
EAP services are available to employees and their eligible dependents, who may receive up to three free sessions per year and may continue on insurance benefits if desired, or be referred to other providers as needed. Classified employees are eligible to use Administrative Leave for two one-hour visits. Counseling and advising services are strictly and legally confidential.
"Measures don't have to involve sitting across from a therapist," Dickens, a licensed therapist, said. "It's important to get prompt, effective attention with the right person and the right frequency. Mindfulness and self-help can be useful for individuals as well."
He said there are a number of things people can do to maintain mental and emotional health – and also preventative things people can do to decrease symptoms: eating well (having a positive relationship with food), exercise or physical activity (can be more fun than just "exercise" or the gym, using outdoor apps for outdoor activities), limiting mood altering substances and going to doctor appointments for regular check-ups. "And all that helps you sleep well, which is important too."
PEBP, the Nevada Public Employees Benefits Program, through United Healthcare, has added a mental health benefit and alcohol and substance use support for employees who use the program; it's an added benefit through their Member Assistance Program.
"Mental health needs have gone up a bunch," Yani Dickens, director of Counseling Services in Student Services, said. "The pandemic was a crisis and an opportunity – the opportunity to find new ways of providing services or increasing funding. Compared to years ago, we now face significant barriers: lack of clinicians, skyrocketing demands for service, and costs. It's a University goal to increase access to mental health providers."
Last year the University conducted the "Healthy Minds" study to examine mental health concerns and use of mental health services among students, faculty and staff in order to better address campus mental health needs. The study found various levels of burnout, depression, eating disorders and anxiety among employees. This year, the University conducted the Mental Health Needs and Services Survey from IPSOS, a leading market research company. This survey aims to gather valuable insights into the experiences, challenges and expectations related to mental health support within the campus community.
"We haven't had any past numbers for comparison, so now with the IPSOS survey just conducted this year, we will be able to compare year over year," Dickens said. "Mental health is a great challenge in our community, this will help provide services and resources to employees."