Mental Wellness Task Force focuses on online discussion groups


As an alternative to its public lectures, which have often resulted in standing-room-only crowds, the Mental Wellness Task Force is offering three online “supportive discussion groups” this April and May, open to faculty and staff.

Each group, facilitated by an expert from UPMC’s LifeSolutions service, will focus on a different area of personal development: stress management, mindfulness and handling difficult conversations.

Linda Tashbook, chair of the Mental Wellness Task Force (part of the University Senate’s Benefits and Welfare Committee), says the book group, which the task force also organizes, has shown that Pitt employees value small-group discussions with people from a variety of departments — but they don’t often get to take part in such things. “People who don’t know each other on campus love to get together and talk about issues they have in common,” Tashbook said.

The stress management group will meet from 3 to 4 p.m. Thursdays, May 6, 13 and 20. Cynthia Grindel, a licensed social worker, will introduce a variety of self-care methods for dealing with the challenge of these and other times in life, and for handling loss in its various forms.

The difficult conversations/de-escalation group will meet 2 to 3 p.m. Wednesdays, April 14, 21 and 28. Amy Skukalek, program manager, will “guide participants in finding their best personal style for raising and responding to unpleasant topics, keeping control over the flow of dialogue and reaching an outcome that meets their needs,” Tashbook said.

There will be two different mindfulness groups. The half-hour version will meet 12:30 to 1 p.m. Tuesdays, April 20 and 27, May 4 and 11. The hour-long version will meet 2 to 3 p.m. Mondays, April 19 and 26, as well as May 3 and 10.

There also will be a one-time Introduction to Mindfulness session from noon to 1 p.m. April 13, which will be the only session open to a larger group.

Mindfulness coach Erin Commendatore will head the mindfulness programs, demonstrating how and “when to ‘hit the pause button’ and focus for a few moments” on your own internal rhythms, Tashbook said.

The task force learned from Nancy McKee, the clinical director at the Oakland campus Life Solutions employee assistance program, that her office has heard from many Pitt employees who have been dealing with complex stress with multiple variables, involving everything from a partner’s job loss to sleep trouble, decreased ability to generate enthusiasm and energy, difficulty finding support, isolation, loneliness and grief about various losses, and experiences with conflicts, disagreements and other unpleasant interactions.

Registration, opening March 15 on a first-come, first-served basis, is open to those who plan to attend all the sessions in each category. The half-hour and hour-long mindfulness programs are open to 15 people each and the other two groups to 20 registrants each. The task force is requesting that participants choose one group only.

There are separate registration forms for each group:

Stress management group:

Difficult conversations group:

Half-hour mindfulness group:

Hour-long mindfulness group:

One-time mindfulness introduction:

Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-758-4859.


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