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Home U Rising Focus on student mental health, Ep. 5: U of U resources


Claudia Navarro, director of clinical services at the University Counseling Center, highlights the many resources available to students struggling with mental health in the final episode of this series. Go beyond traditional one-on-one counseling to workshops, support groups and other resources. Demystify the process of seeking help and be proactive with your mental health care. The series is hosted and produced by Scot Singpiel of at University of Utah Health and was created in collaboration with Student Affairs and the University Counseling Center at the University of Utah.

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Chris Nelson: This is Chris Nelson, co-host of the U Rising Podcast. For the next few episodes,   we are sharing a five-episode series about student mental health produced by at University of Utah Health.

It will examine the top mental health challenges faced by college students and explore what causes them and suggest basic strategy to manage each one.

You'll also learn about the resources available at the University of Utah. Because in the end, it's not just about understanding the issues, it's about empowering you, our students, with the tools to thrive.

So, as we dive into this series, I invite you to join us in our shared journey toward a healthier future.


Scot Singpiel: The University Counseling Center and their website is a great resource for any person that's working through nearly every mental health issue somebody might encounter.

For managing stress and anxiety to relationships, one's identity, victim advocacy and crisis services, help goes much further than just the typical one-on-one counseling that most people think about when they think about their mental health, and it can include workshops, support groups, online training and more.

Claudia Navarro is the director of clinical services at the University of Utah Counseling Center, and we're going to explore some of the options that are available to help students successfully navigate mental health issues.

My first question for you, Claudia, is I've gone to the website myself for the University of Utah Counseling Center, and I was a little overwhelmed because there's a lot of stuff there. Not only just a lot of different mental health issues somebody might deal with and a lot of resources, but let's help maybe people kind of figure out where to start. So, what are some of the issues that the center helps people with?

Claudia Navarro: So, some of our top concerns that students came in with last year, our top 10 were . . . At No. 1 on the list, anxiety, depression, stress, academics, self-esteem, loneliness, social anxiety, family relationships and ADHD. So those were our top 10. But we see a wide range of concerns that students bring in and it could be a little bit of all of the above that folks are coming into the center with.

Scot Singpiel: So that was the top 10. What are some issues that you help people with that maybe they don't think you would help people with? What didn't make the top 10 that still is very important to the person suffering from whatever the condition is?

Claudia Navarro: That's a great question. I think what you mentioned in the intro about identity often overlaps many of those issues, right? Identity coming from family or from personal identity.

        Claudia Navarro of the University Counseling Centerl

Particularly with the transition for our traditional college-age students, that transition from maybe being under your parents' roof and transitioning into adulthood and living on your own for the first time is really common. And that might present itself as anxiety for the first time or depression and some isolation for the first time.

So, there are so many things that could be overlapping and might be contributing to some of the concerns that we're seeing when students come in, for sure.

Scot Singpiel: When you have students come in, do you ever get the instance where they're like, "I don't quite know what is going on. I just don't feel right?" They can't even put a label to it. It's like, "Well, it's not anxiety. It's not depression."

Claudia Navarro: Oh, all the time. All the time. Students come in, "I'm not quite sure. I am not feeling like I used to. I used to be really outgoing and want to be around my friends and now I don't, but I don't really know why. I can't really put a pin on it." Absolutely, we see that all the time.

And that's part of our job, right, is to work with students to kind of figure out and sort out what might be going on for them that is contributing to some of the symptoms and how to address them.

Scot Singpiel: I love that example that you gave, just, "I don't feel like I used to," or "I just don't quite feel right." I think a lot of people might have that feeling and then they might be afraid to go get help because if I don't even understand what's going on, how is somebody else going to understand what's going on?

Claudia Navarro: Exactly. Yeah. And I think that students a lot of times have an idea that, "Everything needs to be going wrong before I go see a counselor" but maybe it's some of those middle-of-the-road where it's, "I can't really say for sure what it is, but I know something is off right now."

Scot Singpiel: When I think of mental health, I generally think about one-on-one counseling and I was really surprised to learn that there are a lot of other effective options. It just kind of depends on the person and their current situation. Could you expand on some of the other options that are available through the Counseling Center to students?

Claudia Navarro: Oh, my goodness, yes. You and the rest of campus, which is not uncommon. We have so many options outside of one-on-one counseling, particularly around our workshop offerings.

So many students come to us and say, "I want skills to help address symptoms of anxiety or depression" or "I want skills to better communicate how I'm feeling," whatever it might be, right? And so we've developed a wide range of workshop series to address the common reasons that students come to see us.

So, Luana Nan, who is one of our staff psychologists, actually revamped a lot of our workshop series in the last couple of years. And if I could take what I repeat to my individual clients on a regular basis, she has put these in different workshop series based on different topics and put them all very concisely in there and nicely.

So, things like taming stress. How do I deal with stress and the basics of slowing down, prioritizing? Or building resilience. How do I build up my own tolerance to stress? Or interpersonal effectiveness. How do I communicate how I'm feeling if I'm upset? Or addressing conflict with other people. Such a wide range.

So that's just our workshop series and then we also offer a wide range of support groups and therapy groups. A lot of our groups are open in general and some of them are really focused. So, for example, we have a BIPOC student support group. But we also have a Let's Talk support group, which is really open, general and open for students to kind of pop in and talk and get some support.

As far as our therapy groups, what's really interesting is we have a loneliness and connection therapy group, which is probably one of our most popular groups and it's always full. And that's a little bit more focused on, "How do I address feeling lonely and disconnected from other folks and get that connection from others?"

And then another focused therapy group example might look like . . . We have several graduate student groups that are just focused on supporting students that are in graduate programs, who might be in these programs for many years, but dealing with all of the many different levels of maybe stressors in their lives. So, a lot of our grad students are balancing work and family and other relationships on top of their academic responsibilities, right?

Scot Singpiel: For some of the other resources that you have, like the workshops or the support groups or the therapy groups, do those work pretty well for students? That's kind of not the typical again. Most of us think, "One-on-one counseling, that's what I have to do," but these other options, are students liking these?

Claudia Navarro: Oh, absolutely. And so, when we think about what types of concerns, oftentimes what the literature says is that group therapy can be even more effective than individual depending on the particular concern.

Many of our students come in with some type of interpersonal concern, meaning some kind of relationship concern. "I want to learn how to better communicate my feelings with others." Or maybe the role in their family was being the caretaker always.

And so being in a group is actually a really great practice ground for maybe hearing someone else who might be having a rough go and practicing not taking care of them and going full on, "I need to care for you" and just listen and be there for support, but also taking care of yourself. So, there are a lot of therapeutic benefits to participating in a therapy group.

And the same with a support group, right? So, for students that might be coming in and they're saying, "I feel lonely," or "I feel disconnected" . . .

It's a different level of connection when they come in and see me. And I've seen this when I'm running a support group or I'm running an individual counseling session. I see the student come in, they're connecting with me, it's great.

It's a different level when they come to a support group and they're listening to another student say, "Things have been really stressful lately. This has been really hard. My family doesn't understand what college is like and the demands for my time." And then that student just kind of lights up, like, "I had no idea that other people had similar concerns to what I was going through."

And so, it can actually be even more effective than individual counseling. I can say as a counselor, "Yeah, that's really normal. A lot of people feel that way," but it's a different level when you actually hear someone else express that.

Scot Singpiel: Yeah, expressing what you've been thinking up until that point. It's like, "Wow, there are others out there that are experiencing the same thing."

Claudia Navarro: Exactly.

Scot Singpiel: Yeah. Do you find that students are a little reluctant to go into support groups, it's a little scary for them, or are they . . .

Claudia Navarro: Oh, absolutely. All the time. Because of that perception that individual counseling is the way that we're going to address any and all mental health issues, right? So, I think that's a lot of the education that we do when students first come in, depending on, of course, the concerns the students are coming in with.

But when we do think that it might be a good recommendation to go to a support group or a therapy group or one of our workshops, we might ask them, "Do you have any hesitations?" And usually it's, "Yes, I don't want to talk about these feelings in front of other people." And it's like, "Oh, that's very normal. It's so normal. Here's what that might look like" and then we'll go into that conversation with them.

Scot Singpiel: Got it. So, it sounds like some of the services might be good for somebody that is in a situation where they're maybe just struggling with a particular issue, and going to a workshop might give them some skills to work through that issue.

What are the different levels here that you might take somebody through at the Counseling Center when somebody comes in? What's a continuum from somebody just wanting some skills to maybe somebody who's somewhere in the middle or somebody who's really close to crisis?

Claudia Navarro: Like I said, we see the whole range of it, right? And so, someone with that lower level of acuity, that might sound like, "Yeah, I really want to be proactive about my mental health. I'm really wanting to learn some new skills."

And we're looking at functioning too. So, some students may come in and they are not sleeping. They are having difficulty eating. They are having difficulty catching up on classes. Those are concerns that we may say, "Right now it may not be the best time for participating in a group. We really need to talk one-on-one about getting you back up and functioning a little bit higher before we have you participating in a group."

Or we might do both at the same time, in which maybe we have that person start with a workshop and also recommend maybe some individual counseling at the same time so that they're maybe doing both if it's possible, right? Depending on time. We know students are so busy.

And so, we're really looking at what is the concern and then what is the range?

And then, of course, we have students that might be presenting with really severe mental health concerns. We may have them work . . . We have a full-time care manager that works with students to help them find resources in the community that may match their level of need at this time.

And then, of course, we have crisis counselors available during our business hours that are also available to support students that might be experiencing a mental health crisis.

Scot Singpiel: So it sounds like anybody on any range of this continuum from wanting more skills to maybe even kind of closer to crisis would come in. Is there some sort of an intake that you have to help a student figure out exactly where they need to go, what they need to be concerned with?

Claudia Navarro: Yes, absolutely. So, we actually are implementing a new step in our service model this year. And so, we are introducing an initial consultation for students.

We used to start all students off with a traditional intake, which would require students to do about 20, 30 minutes of paperwork, which includes their mental health history, which is very normal for an intake, and then talk to them about where they're at and recommend services.

However, a lot of students would get confused, so they would do an intake with us, but they might be looking for the Learning Success Center.

And so, in that, we're implementing an initial consultation, which is just a 20-, 25-minute phone call with one of our counselors to better understand what service the student is looking for and what their needs are and really having this conversation similar to what you and I are talking about right now, like, "What's going on right now for you? And how best can we match you to maybe one of our services?" depending on the level of your needs right now.

Scot Singpiel: So, there's a person that's just a phone call away that could actually help maybe somebody navigate the almost overwhelming, which is in a good way, amount of services that you have?

Claudia Navarro: Absolutely. Yes. And so, this is really great for those students who are like, "I have no idea what service would be best for me." Then we absolutely have that conversation. We're like, "Okay, tell me a little bit about what's been going on," and then we go into it.

Scot Singpiel: Yeah. "What are your goals? What are you trying to accomplish?"

Claudia Navarro: Exactly.

Scot Singpiel: What are the costs of services at the University of Utah Counseling Center?

Claudia Navarro: Okay. This is where it gets a little confusing. Most of our services are free.

Scot Singpiel: So that intake or that initial consultation definitely is free?

Claudia Navarro: Absolutely. Initial consultation is free. Crisis services are free. Workshops are free. Support groups are free. How we're kind of identifying them, our ongoing clinical services are also free, but we do have a $10 no-show fee that's associated with them. So, things like individual counseling, group therapy, relationship counseling, those ones would have a no-show fee attached.

Scot Singpiel: And I did see that information on the website, and it sounds like that that intake appointment, that initial consultation, could cover anything that would be specific to the particular student.

Quick question on workshops. Are workshops in person or are they virtual or both?

Claudia Navarro: They're both. All of our services are hybrid since the onset of the pandemic. We offer virtual options and in-person options. So, our workshops will have both. Our groups are also running the same, although we may not have one where they're running both at the same time, but we would definitely have in-person group options and virtual group options.

Scot Singpiel: What would you want a listener to take away from our conversation today about the University of Utah Counseling Center and the services you provide and who you provide them for?

Claudia Navarro: I think the main thing that I would want a listener to walk away with from today is even if you're on the fence about counseling or not sure if we're the right fit for you or even unsure if counseling could work for you, come and talk to us about it. We would love to have that conversation.

We love having those conversations with students that are on the fence or maybe questioning, "Do I need counseling services? Are my concerns even . . . do they even warrant any services?" We would love to talk with you about that and see if we would recommend that. Most of the time, they would. There's a workshop, there's a group, there's another service that would land really well.

I think students do have this perception a lot of the times where everything needs to be falling apart in order to come to counseling, and it doesn't need to be there. Sometimes we can prevent a crisis by coming in if we know that we've maybe been there before. If we know that we've had a really stressful semester before, coming in to prevent that from happening again maybe is a great reason.

So, all of those things, right? If you're unsure, if you just want to participate, or if you just want to come and . . . Just come and talk to us.