Between the global pandemic, rampant wildfires, and the transition to online learning, our campus community has plenty of reasons to feel overwhelmed and stressed. To meet the increasing need for emotional and mental support, Stan State’s Psychological Counseling Services (PCS) is now providing an online tool called Therapy Assistance Online (TAO).
According to the Stan State website, “TAO is an online platform of evidence-based tools and educational materials to help you bounce back from life’s disappointments and learn new life skills.”
PCS counselor Jennifer Staffero explains more about TAO. “TAO is an anonymous self-help program with different modules that address different mental health concerns... It’s available to everyone on campus: students, faculty and staff.”
The program consists of several educational modules on a variety of topics including anxiety, depression and anger. There are also assessments progress as well as practice tools and logs to help reinforce the skills learned in the modules.
Staffero explains that she likes the fact that the modules are interactive. TAO offers videos and activities as well as readings. This makes it easier to feel engaged.
Stan State received a mental health grant that would cover the cost of one year of TAO, and what a perfect year for it to arrive. With the transition to online learning, students have been reporting a significant increase in stress.
Iysha Rafiq (senior, Psychology) describes how this semester has been particularly stressful due to online learning. “Not going to class in person makes it harder to establish separate deadlines for each class and that stresses me out.”
Staffero explains that distance learning can be particularly stressful because students are experiencing a lack of motivation from not being in the classroom. Additionally, it’s difficult to keep track of all the responsibilities for each online course.
Courtney Reeves (senior, Psychology) emphasizes this by saying, “I feel like I have more anxiety because I feel like I am missing assignments or not learning everything I should be. I don’t find myself as engaged in the lecture because it’s hard to focus and I feel like it is much easier to get distracted.”
TAO has the potential to help students like Rafiq and Reeves learn to manage the stress that distance learning has brought on.
One bonus of TAO is that it will not add to the current stress of deadlines and commitment because it is completely self-directed. It won’t stress your bank account either! Mental health resources can get pricey, but as members of the campus community, TAO and PCS are free of charge.
Many people find it difficult to reach out to a counselor so another perk of TAO is that it may help people ease into the process of seeking help. Staffero comments, “I think that sometimes people don’t want to talk to a counselor, so this is a good way to checkout resources and see ‘maybe I do have anxiety or maybe I am feeling more depressed’ and then it could maybe lead to calling counseling.”
Staffero encourages students to be especially mindful of their mental health during these difficult times. “I think right now we really have to focus on self-care. We’ve got to get through this. It’s not just COVID, it’s also the trauma with anti-Black racism.”
Additionally, Staffero says “I think a lot of students are at home, and some situations may not be the best for their mental health.” For students who may have had to move back into a toxic home environment, TAO may provide them with the extra support that they need in order to cope with the negative influences on their mental health.
With all of life’s stressors, we may not even be aware of what is going on for us mentally. Staffero comments that students often come to her for counseling believing that their depressive symptoms are experienced by everyone, rather than something that they can take action to change. Staffero explains that by gaining knowledge about our mental health, we are better able to take control of it.
TAO helps users with this by providing modules to teach users about mental health. Staffero isn’t the only one who appreciates this aspect of TAO. A few Stan State psychology majors comment on why psychoeducation is so important.
Teresa Rios Vazquez (senior, Psychology) says that “Knowing about one’s mental health can teach us how to cope and deal with anxiety, depression and many other mental health conditions.”
Reeves agrees adding that psychoeducation helps people “learn their triggers and ways to avoid and lessen anxiety attacks, mental breakdowns and other crisis moments.”
Katherine Warda (senior, Psychology) emphasizes that everyone should have some education on mental health. “Yes to learning more about mental health! Mental health and normalizing it and ending its stigma is so important. I literally called off work today and listed the reason as ‘mental health day’. A few months ago, you would have caught me saying it was a sick day, but not anymore! It's time to normalize mental health!”
With TAO being free, easy to use, and completely anonymous, PCS has given us the opportunity to learning about and prioritizing our own mental health in a very low stakes environment. To sign up for TAO, visit Stan State’s TAO registration page.
Whether you plan on utilizing this platform or not, Staffero encourages any students who are struggling with their mental health to reach out to PCS. “I really think that if a student is struggling in any way, it’s definitely okay to reach out to us as PCS. We’re non-judgmental and we are here to support students. We are very student centered.”
Staffero stresses the importance of communicating your needs. If you feel like you need help right away, do not hesitate to tell the administrative assistant. In cases of emergency, they may be able to get you an appointment earlier.
Additionally, if you are experiencing a crisis outside of PCS’s office hours, you may still call the office and select option two on the answering machine for “after-hours crisis”. This will direct you to a crisis counselor who can speak to you over the phone and update your counselor so that they may follow up with you.
Seeking help while you are in a dark place can be difficult and sometimes scary, but the staff at Stan State’s PCS are here to support you in any way possible. Do not hesitate to take advantage of the many resources (including TAO) that PCS has to offer.
For more information about TAO and PCS, you can visit their website here.