School News

It’s Mental Health Month: Addressing Concerns for the Return to ‘Normal’ and Important Advice for Navigating the Transition

By Monica Jianette

After a year of predominantly virtual work and school, students, faculty, and staff from the Ross School of Business are preparing for a return to an in-person fall semester, consistent with public health recommendations and University of Michigan guidance. 

The transition back to in-person work and school, however, may cause increased levels of anxiety and uncertainty for some students. This makes managing mental health during this time a primary concern. 

Below, Julie Kaplan, the embedded Counseling and Psychological Services counselor at Michigan Ross, and Ana Taylor, vice president of wellness for the MBA Council, explain the causes behind the increased tension students may experience. Most importantly, they offer advice for tackling the “return to normalcy.”

Insight from the Michigan Ross embedded CAPS counselor 

“It’s a different kind of anxiety that students are beginning to experience,” explained Kaplan. “We’ve gone from anxiety about getting sick or being judged by classmates, to concerns about figuring out what’s safe and easing back into social situations.”

Kaplan said there is an interesting dynamic at play between rational behavior to stay safe and anxiety from the unfamiliarity of the transition. 

“Six months ago, many individuals didn’t feel comfortable getting their hair cut or eating out at a restaurant,” she said. “Now, because of mass vaccinations and lower COVID-19 rates throughout the state, these activities feel more comfortable. However, some are still adjusting to the transition and are not quite ready to dip their toes into pre-COVID everyday activities.” 

To this, Kaplan offers the following advice: 

Listen to yourself. It’s OK to stay in your comfort zone and stretch yourself gradually. Take your time, and don’t be too harsh or judgmental to yourself.

Julie Kaplan, embedded CAP counselor at Michigan Ross

Additionally, Kaplan said long-term social isolation and virtual classes and activities have prevented students and faculty from practicing social behaviors. She anticipates increased concerns related to social awkwardness and social anxiety in the coming academic year with the shift to in-person and synchronous classes.

As a result, Kaplan said, it’s important to remember that students, faculty, and staff are not alone in this challenging transition. “It’s been a really hard year, and we need to be kind and patient to ourselves and slowly recalibrate,” she advises. 

Reflections from the MBA Council’s VP of wellness

According to Taylor, everything about the COVID-19 school year — from the level of health risk tolerance to the ability to still perform adequately in school — varied for each student. She believes the same will be true for transitioning to a more normal school year.

"The return to 'normal' is going to be a unique experience for every student,” she said. “This upcoming year presents itself as a year of possibility, which can be incredibly exciting to some as well as nerve-wracking to others.”

Taylor said that incoming students will be immersed into a world with thousands of students and maximum-capacity settings, an entirely different experience from nearly 18 months of isolation and small social circles. As a result, she said, many students will go in with the goal of making up for lost time, reaching out to classmates and professors and focusing on personal goals. Others may have to take their time returning to an active student life.

“My biggest recommendation for our Rossers is to hone in on your self-awareness,” she said. “Be honest with your comfortability. Give yourself grace to ease back into large social situations.”

New mental health resources

There is an array of resources available at both Michigan Ross and the University of Michigan that students can utilize to improve their mental health.

Virtual Therapy Sessions

Kaplan holds virtual therapy sessions for undergraduate, graduate, and PhD students at Ross.  Information about the format of therapy sessions for the fall is still being determined, and will either be in-person, virtual, or a combination of both. Students enrolled in the current semester can reach out through CAPS or email jrkaplan@umich.edu.

Peer Counseling

The Peer Counseling program offers students the opportunity to meet with peers who are trained by the professional staff at CAPS. The program connects students with someone of a similar age and lifestyle who can serve as a resource or simply someone to talk to. For more information, visit https://caps.umich.edu/article/peer-counseling.

SilverCloud

SilverCloud is an online, self-guided, interactive mental health resource that provides cognitive behavioral interventions. This resource can be accessed 24/7 and can be used at one’s own pace. To launch SilverCloud, visit https://caps.umich.edu/article/silvercloud-interactive-mental-health-resource.

With so many changes related to transitioning back to in-person work, school, and life, Michigan Ross and U-M are here to support the mental health of students, faculty, and staff.