The remote interactions and physical distancing necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19 can lead to feelings of isolation, anxiety, and more.
That is why, as part of the Caltech Together campaign, the Institute aims to ensure that students, staff, and faculty are aware of the support systems available to the Caltech community.
Counseling Through Student Wellness Services
Counseling and occupational therapy are available to undergraduate and graduate students no matter where they reside. Although services and coverage differ depending on whether a student is currently in California or elsewhere, all students should reach out to Caltech Student Wellness Services as a first step. "Don't think too hard about it," says Lee Coleman, assistant director of counseling services. "We will work with you to get you what you need."
Occupational therapy, Coleman explains, helps students develop sustainable habits for their time at Caltech and beyond, such as time management skills, plans for approaching classwork, and ways to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle. Counseling, on the other hand, "helps people deal with anything related to emotional and personal wellbeing," he says. "Counseling can be for anything from dealing with stress up to dealing with depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide."
For an appointment, call 626-395-8331. (If calling during non-business hours, press "2" to be connected to someone who can help.)
Students also can participate in weekly online workshops that cover topics from getting better sleep to coping with procrastination to staying connected with your partner. All workshops are recorded and posted on the Student Wellness Services website soon after they end. In addition, students interested in learning and practicing mindfulness can join the virtual, weekly Meditation Mob, held every Tuesday at 12 p.m. PT. An informal new pop-in group, where students can mingle online and talk about how they are coping during the pandemic, meets on Mondays (October 19–November 30) at 12 p.m. PT.
For individuals concerned not for themselves, but about someone else, Coleman says that Counseling Services also welcomes the opportunity to advise on how to have supportive conversations with others who may need help.
Staff and Faculty Consultation Center (SFCC)
The SFCC is open and serving faculty, staff, and postdoctoral scholars and their families remotely. The center offers counseling sessions by phone via Zoom Medical, a HIPAA-compliant version of Zoom that offers privacy and confidentiality. Sessions are free, confidential, not affiliated with Human Resources, and can be about any matter, professional or personal.
Faculty, staff, and postdoctoral scholars can call or email for a consultation: 626-395-8360 (calls are returned Monday–Friday, 8 a.m.–5 p.m. PT) and SFCC@caltech.edu.
To better address issues created by the global pandemic, the SFCC has increased the frequency of the professional talks it gives to small groups, covering topics such as managing anxiety, navigating through change, coping with stress and uncertainty, dealing with loss and grief, and practicing self-care.
"We work to tailor the content to the group, and to take into account the particular challenges that group may be facing," says SFCC director Linda Krippner. "Some groups have been working on campus throughout the pandemic and may have concerns about infection and the impact on their families of continuing to be out in the workplace. Others are now adjusting to being back on campus. Then there are employees who continue to work remotely, some of whom report feeling burned out, isolated, disconnected, or feeling that work and personal lives bleed into one another."
SFCC also offers a monthly group for caregivers, facilitated via Zoom by a representative from the Huntington Senior Care Network, affiliated with Huntington Hospital. Email SFCC@caltech.edu for the Zoom link.
In addition, the center recently launched two new resources:
- Ask a Counselor: Caltech employees can text callback information to SFCC at 626-406-1733 (weekdays only) when they have a confidential question but may not necessarily need or want an entire session with a counselor. This service was developed especially for those who do not have the kind of flexible schedule that can accommodate a scheduled session or who do not work at a computer. Outreach materials for this program are provided in both English and Spanish and can be accessed here.
- TheWell@Caltech: TheWell is an online portal for faculty, staff, postdocs, and their families that includes information about the pandemic and mental health and community resources.
Caltech's CARE Team, which remains active during the pandemic, comprises a multidisciplinary group of professional staff across the Institute. Each member brings knowledge and expertise in fields including mental health, crisis intervention, student development, staff consultation, campus security, academic support, and residential life.
Any member of the community can and should make a referral to the team if they are concerned about another member. Learn more about what it means to submit a CARE referral, and behaviors that may be signs of distress.
SilverCloud is a self-directed online series of modules that cover coping with depression and anxiety, sleep problems, and learning resilience and coping skills. It is free and available to all Caltech community members.
The Health Advocate and Peer Advocate programs provide Caltech undergraduates with training to become advocates for their fellow students' emotional and physical health. Training for Health and Peer Advocates, which requires for-credit classes, is continuing during the pandemic.
Upper-class undergraduates are encouraged to reach out to Health or Peer Advocates with questions or concerns about their own wellbeing or that of their peers. First-year students should contact a resident associate (RA) or a residential life coordinator (RLC).
While students are spread out across the globe, it is more important than ever for these student advocates to be proactive, says Mark Stapf, the Health Advocate program instructor, noting that advocates reach out widely to their virtual student house communities, the house peer network, resident associates and residential life coordinators, and Living Learning Groups.
"We have a strong belief that we need to treat the whole person, both physically and mentally," Stapf says.