By SHANNON O. WELLS
Pitt’s Year of Emotional Well-Being unofficially got underway with the start of the fall 2022 semester. With Pitt recognizing October as Mental Health Awareness Month, a schedule of events and dedicated website for the current “Year Of” theme is set to be announced next week.
Jay Darr, who was named associate dean of students for wellness in March, now leads the Student Wellness Team, which encompasses Student Health Service, University Counseling Center and the Care and Resource Support Team.
With significant help from students and staff — including Jamie Zelazny, assistant professor of nursing and psychiatry — Darr is spearheading the Year of Emotional Well-Being, which continues Pitt’s tradition of “Year Of …” themes that started in the 2014-15 school year with a focus on sustainability.
Darr took a moment from his preparations to address questions from University Times on what the Year of Emotional Well-Being is about and how it may enrich the lives of those in and around the Pitt community.
What makes 2022-23 a good academic year to focus on emotional well-being at Pitt? What went into the decision behind this theme?
We think the provost’s announcement best sums this up:
“The choice of this theme offers an opportunity to engage collectively with a focus on restoring and enhancing our emotional well-being,” Provost Ann Cudd said in picking the theme in the spring. “The pandemic certainly has underscored the importance of fully supporting the emotional welfare of students, faculty and staff as everyone navigates the new terrain. This is a time of burgeoning research and collective reflection on our emotional needs and the qualities that make for a good life.”
As the COVID pandemic morphs into another, hopefully less threatening, phase, what are some of the bigger threats and challenges to emotional well-being, particularly in a large university community setting?
We are slowly moving to the next phase of COVID, which creates opportunities to continue to evolve how we support one another during challenging times, including having conversations — at times awkward — about how we’re really doing or expressing your feelings, encouraging help seeking, including but not limited to connections or reconnecting with people in your life (family, friends, colleagues, campus and community organizations) and engaging or exploring activities that facilitate joy and meaning, and practicing gratitude, to name a few.
How does this theme mesh with your new role as associate dean of student wellness? Does it provide a unique opportunity to focus on your approach and goals in the role?
As the inaugural associate dean for student wellness and being co-chair of the Year of Emotional Well-Being Committee provides a unique opportunity to work with students and colleagues, from all campuses, to advance well-being as shared responsibility through an equitable and inclusive lens to expand peer support programs, enhance international student, graduate and professional student services as well as training opportunities within the Wellness Team, and work with the Campus Well-Being Consortium and Pittsburgh Consortium of Higher Education institutions to continue to develop innovative support, such as the HEART program.
Will the University Counseling Center play a key role in the emotional well-being theme? Is the center well positioned to handle what seems to be greater demands in the wake of the pandemic, recent economic challenges and other sources of stress?
Absolutely. The University Counseling Center is an integral partner and has been well positioned to support students since the spring of 2019 and as we move to the next phases of COVID and beyond.
Here is an excerpt of tips for emotional well-being:
Find a healthy balance: Determine your priorities, focus on things that are important to you, and make time to take care of yourself. Have fun and enjoy the small moments.
Practice gratitude: Focus on positive events in your life and don’t sweat the small stuff. Establish a daily gratitude practice to help highlight things that positively impact to your well-being.
Stay connected with people in your life: Send a text message to someone you haven’t talked to in awhile, make plans to get together with friends or even spark a conversation with someone new.
Focus on what matters the most to you in your life and spend time doing what is meaningful to you. Reflect on your personal values, set life goals or try exploring spiritual or religious practices.
Shannon O. Wells is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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