Colleges and universities have invested in extraordinary resources to keep students educated, engaged, stimulated, and well during the pandemic. Just like everyone else, higher education institutions have had to pivot constantly, evolving through different stages of lockdown.
Among those resources, higher education institutions across the United States are using Togetherall, an anonymous online peer-to-peer mental health support network moderated by licensed mental health practitioners. But how does it work? Foothill College is now offering the Togetherall platform to their students, and they shared their experience with us.
Fierce Education spoke with Alexis Donato, LMFT, Chair of the Psychological Services Department at Foothill College, a Community College in Los Altos Hills, California, regarding how mental health was affecting their students and how this was affecting their academic performance.
Not surprisingly, Covid-19 and the overall unrest in the world has affected students who became isolated. In turn, this has impacted their mood and wellbeing. “In addition to coping with school,“ Donato said, “students are also experiencing financial and food insecurity. Many of them who needed two jobs to make ends meet are no longer working. Now that places are opening up, we’re seeing some health related anxiety despite [the students] being vaccinated.”
Fierce Education: Why and when do you decide to implement Togetherall?
Alexis Donato: One of our main goals as a department was to try to reach all students to allow for them to explore their mental health and wellness without their only option being an individual counseling appointment. One of our Wellness Ambassadors came across Togetherall and brought it to our attention. We thought this would be a wonderful way to reach all students, especially those who weren’t able to or [were not] comfortable with attending virtual individual counseling appointments.
Fierce Education: What kind of response did you get from students?
Alexis Donato: We are in the early stages of implementation at this time, and our Wellness Ambassadors are exploring the platform and will be able to provide more feedback as more students enroll.
Fierce Education: How would you say the Togetherall platform works in advancing diversity and inclusion at Foothill College?
Alexis Donato: I would say Togetherall is advancing diversity and inclusion because it removes a few barriers in addressing mental health. It has been researched to show that in BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and Other People of Color) communities there is a lower rate of students accessing mental health services on campus due to stigma. Togetherall allows for students to connect with others in an anonymous way without having to schedule an individual counseling appointment. Many students are struggling to attend their counseling appointments due to lack of Wi-Fi, or not having a confidential place to attend a virtual appointment. Togetherall allows for peer-to-peer interaction in a safe, moderated way which can be equal to or even more impactful than working with a counselor at times. We think that Togetherall anonymity, safety to connect, variety in options to receive help, and comprehensive platform touch into all cultures, communities, and comfort levels of our students during this challenging time.
Coping strategies to improve mental wellness
- Stay active
- Eat healthy
- Get approximately eight hours of sleep
- Surround yourself with good people who support you
- If feeling stressed, try meditation, mindfulness, or talking to trusted friends and family
- Be aware of your stressors and how you react to them
- Reserve time for rest and relaxation
- Do something you love but haven’t had time for, or try something new
- Don’t hesitate to ask for help when you feel you need it
Normalization is the critical first step. It will allow students to move past the misconception that something is wrong with them for feeling the way they do. Once a student discovers they are not alone with their feelings and emotions, the doors open to discussion and getting support from peers is ultimately a step in the right direction.