By Abigail Cloutier
Last semester, the Department of Higher Education awarded Youngstown State University a grant worth $124,200 to expand mental health services during the pandemic, according to the Ohio Checkbook government portal. Student Counseling Services used the funds to hire another full-time counselor, two part-time counselors, and a graduate assistant. They also contracted with a local provider for additional behavioral health services.
Ann Jaronski, director of Student Counseling Services, is using the spring semester to create wellness programs for all students, regardless if they are actively in or seeking counseling. Counseling Services will roll out biofeedback devices to track physical stress responses this week and light therapy boxes to help with seasonal depression in March. Students will be able to check out either device through Andrews Student Recreation and Wellness Center.
“Contrary to what you might think, greater heart rate variability is a better thing. Your heart and your nervous system are more able to roll with the punches. So using a tool like biofeedback, where you’re actually getting feedback from your body, about your heart rate — it’ll walk you through some guided imagery, so teaches you to slow your breathing down, teaches you to focus, which helps improve your heart rate variability, which helps improve your ability to handle stress, your ability to focus, to calm yourself down,” she said.
Tiffany Spisak, first-year graduate student and graduate assistant for Student Counseling Services, is working with campus rec to create wellness and self-care classes.
“I’m very excited to be here and help out with outreach and spreading mental health awareness to the students of YSU. I am very passionate about mental health and strive to show others the importance of the continuous process of improving our mental well-being,” she said.
Katie Stephen is Counseling Services new licensed professional clinical counselor, and will provide counseling services directly to students. Though she was initially hired through the COVID-19 grant, Jaronski expects Stephen to be a permanent addition to Counseling Services’ staff.
“I am so proud to be able to be a part of the YSU family and to continue to grow in my profession. I have wanted to return to higher education since graduate school and I am excited to be able to do that here at YSU,” she said. “My overall goal is to be a supportive, listening ear to students helping to motivate them and increase their overall well-being. I hope to create a safe place that students feel comfortable coming to when they need it.”
Despite the pandemic, counseling appointments haven’t increased this year, possibly due to issues like Zoom fatigue.
“People are really tired of being online, and are really craving in person connections and contacts,” Jaronski said. “I anticipate an uptick in requests for services once we’re back in person. I think that’s when people are going to want to reconnect, they’re going to struggle to reconnect, people are going to be rusty.”
With the rest of the COVID-19 mental health grant, Jaronski is working with a few different companies to create mental health education resources for issues like substance abuse, anxiety, depression and eating disorders. Part of the grant also went to creating wellness kits for students stuck in quarantine.
“So, on a continuum, we’re also looking for resources that students can use and engage in on a lower level. Let’s say [students] don’t need to talk to a professional counselor, or aren’t ready for that yet,” Jaronski said. “What are some of the self-help or minimally guided kind of resources that students can use?”