Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, students have had to adapt to a new normal of online learning and virtual connection. To help students prioritize their mental well-being and lessen the stigma surrounding this sensitive topic, USC is offering virtual mental health services and other online opportunities throughout the semester, including support for Latinx students.

According to a survey conducted in April by Active Minds, about 80% of college students nationwide said that COVID-19 had negatively impacted their mental health and 55% said they did not know where to seek help from a mental health professional if they needed it.

USC has a number of resources for students who need support, it’s just a matter of knowing where they are.

Mental health services and community engagement through La CASA

The Latinx Chicanx Center for Advocacy and Student Affairs, or La CASA, is an organization that strives to educate students at USC about Latinx issues while promoting diversity and inclusion through various events and resources.

La CASA Center Director, Billy Vela, said that the organization is focused on discussing mental health with students this semester since the current state of the world and online classes can be overwhelming.

One of these events was La CASA’s Power Pan Dulce Speaker series with Dr. Karina Ramos called “Coping with COVID-19, Remote Classes & Everything Else,” which took place on Aug. 28.

Dr. Ramos who serves as the mental health liaison for La CASA is also a Psychologist, Clinical Assistant Professor and Faculty of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Keck School of Medicine of USC. During her Zoom presentation, Dr. Ramos discussed how to ground oneself when experiencing anxiety, the various mental health resources on campus and how to deal with imposter syndrome.

Check out La CASA’s Instagram post for a Pan Dulce Recap to read some more of the highlights from the discussion with Dr. Ramos.

La CASA will also be implementing a new Bienestar Wellness Series featuring Dr. Elizabeth Reyes, which is just one of the many events students can expect during USC Latinx Heritage Month 2020, that begins on Sept. 15. La CASA, the Latinx Leadership Roundtable — which is composed of over 25 Latinx student clubs and organizations at USC — and other friends at USC are collaborating to create virtual spaces to further discuss mental health and to help Trojans of all backgrounds find a sense of community since they cannot physically be on campus.

“We went virtual because those are the things we usually offer in person, and so we wanted to make sure that students knew we’re still offering them [through Zoom],” said Vela.

Since starting his Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership (EDL) program in the Rossier School of Education two years ago, Vela is a USC student himself. He said he understands the stress that many students are experiencing and he hopes that La CASA’s events will normalize having conversations about mental health within the Latinx community.

“Sometimes you got to be talking to the right people and sometimes it’s people who want to affirm you, who believe in you and want you to succeed,” said Vela.

La CASA also plans on hosting future events with other virtual platforms and welcomes all students to join. Follow @lacasadeusc on Instagram and check out their website for more information.

Mental health resources through USC Student Health

Students can also find support at USC Student Health, which is part of Keck Medicine of USC and offers a variety of virtual counseling and mental health services.

To schedule an appointment, communicate with their healthcare providers or access their medical information, students can log onto their MySHR (My Student Health Record). Once there, students enrolled in the Student Health fee can explore options like “Let’s Talk,” a one-on-one 30-minute drop-in Zoom session with a counselor, Group Counseling via TeleHealth and single-session workshops to discuss topics like sleep, anxiety and healthy relationships.

Dr. Elizabeth Reyes serves as the embedded counselor for La CASA and is an Associate Director, Clinical Services and Operations and Faculty of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Dr. Kelly Greco serves as the community liaison for Residential Life and the Greek community and is the Assistant Director of Outreach and Prevention Services, Clinical Associate Professor and Faculty of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Both Dr. Greco and Dr. Reyes explained that USC Student Health also offers students the option of connecting with a counselor who reflects their cultural, gender or religious identity.

“It’s about normalizing and validating what one is going through,” said Dr. Greco. “Having a shared identity is really important in terms of understanding the other person.”

Dr. Reyes explained that students of color may be the “only” in their programs at primarily white institutions like USC and that they may feel out of place and experience imposter syndrome. With the added stress of the civil unrest and racial issues in 2020, she believes that students can find comfort in connecting with someone who reflects their culture.

“It can be very powerful for students that are far from home or who are looking for a sense of community here where there’s a shared understanding without needing to explain oneself,” said Dr. Reyes. “Our entire center and all the counselors are very committed to providing multi-culturally competent services to our students, regardless of our own identities,” explained Dr. Reyes.

Dr. Greco and Dr. Reyes also discussed some ways that students can prioritize their mental wellness at home while they resume online learning.

Dr. Greco said that during times of uncertainty it is important for students to focus on their thoughts, decision making, how they set up their work environment and how they can prioritize their overall mental health. She also said that since students are working in the “same environment” all day, they should find two to three activities that help them cope and schedule it into their daily routines, whether it be going for a walk, doing yoga and meditation, watching Netflix or FaceTiming a friend.

“When we look at the research with thriving and resiliency, the No. 1 factor is that sense of belonging and sense of community is what helps us thrive,” explained Dr. Greco.

Dr. Reyes explained that a sense of connectedness and relationship is the key to mental well being and that it is important for students to stay in touch with friends and family during this difficult time. However, she also said that if students choose to meet someone in person or go outside, they should follow the CDC guidelines by wearing a mask and social distancing.

“I think a lot of people worry about being a burden to others, or that they’re busy, but we really need each other right now,” said Dr. Reyes. “It’s important to test your assumptions, so rather than assume that your friends are too busy or you’re gonna bother someone, reach out.”