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MSU CAPS Summer Care Kit supports well-being in uncertain times

Mark Patishnock is the director of MSU's Counseling and Psychiatric Services.

“If someone Googles MSU CAPS, they might see an advertisement to buy a baseball cap,” Patishnock quips. “Actually it's what we're commonly known as. Counseling and Psychiatric Services is the primary mental health service for all MSU students. We are charged with being accessible and providing quality care to all 50,000 plus enrolled students. We have a bevy of resources, and we're here for students and faculty.”

Patishnock and the CAPS team have created a Summer Care Kit for our growth and well-being.

“It was in response to folks reaching out and asking for help in a variety of ways. “We've seen everybody struggle with trying to figure out how to manage in these unprecedented times. We first noticed signs of stress in our own staff. They were struggling with some of these transitions and we saw the same thing with our families at our homes and the students we're serving. The Summer Care Kit is five identified areas that we're finding to be fairly universal right now that all people could be benefiting from taking a look at and refocusing their energy. We chose these five areas as a way to create bite size snippets to focus on as opposed to a large document that would feel overwhelming. We broke it down to these five basic areas.”

The five areas are the basics, maintaining connections with ourselves and others, coping skills, dealing with loss and uncertainty, and meaning and motivation.

Credit caps.msu.edu
Mark Patishnock

“In some ways you might look at our five areas and say, ‘Duh, that's not rocket science.’ But when things go awry and we're stressed, these are the first things that go out the window - our sleep, our exercise, and our nutrition. We tend not to think about those things and often we'll get dehydrated or we'll be malnourished, or we just won't be as active as we've been. Those things have a pretty immediate impact in all of our areas. And so just like when we're working with students who are coming in for depression or anxiety, if you show me a student who generally has a good sleep hygiene, sleep routine, who is eating nutritiously every few hours and who's getting some activity throughout the day, I'm generally going to show you a student with less depression and anxiety than they otherwise would have.”

The CAPS team encourages us to be Spartan Fit through SMART goals. The idea is to make goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely.

“When you do that, you can feel a sense of accomplishment. It's really just a way to think about how we're setting goals and expectations. And those things are associated with whether we feel good or get frustrated. It's a way to refocus realistic expectations and goals for ourselves.”

And when is it time to seek professional help?

“Going to see a mental health professional is often not the first step that someone takes. Usually it's pretty common for people to try to manage on their own. They might talk to family or friends first. By the time someone does consider going to a mental health professional, it's usually been anywhere from months to years that someone has been struggling with an issue. I encourage people to think about not creating a high threshold to have to ask for help. Mental health professionals are trained to understand people's concerns in the context of their own individual identities, their culture, and their experiences in the context of our overall circumstances. We don't have to wait until things get really bad. And as a result, there might be different recommendations that come out of that. I would just have people have a low threshold to ask for help. I think we all can use help from time to time. It’s perhaps time to seek professional help anytime something is going on where you notice that you're not enjoying life as much or something is impacting your relationships, your mood, your behaviors, your activity level, your diet, your sleep, your interest, and motivation.

Basically, if you're not living life the way that you want to be living it and you don't feel like you're interacting with the world and with people in a way that's happy or satisfactory to you, that might mean that there's something getting in the way. And that's what trained mental health professionals can help you figure out and overcome.”

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. What would Patishnock like us to be more aware of?

“I’d like people to realize just how normal it is to have a mental health concern. As a society, we're getting better at de-stigmatizing mental health. But many still believe that someone either does have a mental health problem or they don't have a mental health problem. And it's seen as black and white when that's just not the case. A lot of us see our physical health as fluid. I don't think any of us would say that we're 100 percent physically healthy. I have lower back pain from time to time. If all of us were honest, we would say there's something about us that's not 100 percent healthy, but it doesn't mean that we need to be at a doctor's office.

“It doesn't mean that we're not okay, but we tend to look at mental health as something where a person either has a mental health problem or they don't. I would like people to know that it's important to think about our mental health the same way as with our physical health’ it’s fluid. It's not black and white and therefore we don't have to categorize ourselves or others as either having a problem or not. It's actually better to see that we all have varying degrees of mental health and varying degrees of physical health. And at various times it might be important to seek help to address those problems just like we would for any physical issue.”

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