LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 5, 2021) — 2020 was a difficult year for mental health. Feelings of anxiety, sadness and loss were common for many. The global pandemic has led to suffering, death and grieving. Lockdown measures led to job loss and social isolation and the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other unarmed Black Americans has led to social unrest.
Adrianna Fisher-Willis, staff psychologist at the University of Kentucky Counseling Center (UKCC), says the events happening around us, even when the impact is not direct, have an immense effect on our mental health.
“We live in a world heavily covered by the media,” Fisher-Willis said. “Social media has provided everyone with a front row seat to images of racial injustice. Additionally, Americans everywhere became thrown into the devastation of COVID-19. When you combine this with the very normal impact of day-to-day stress of home, work and pre-existing mental health conditions, we are going to see major negative impacts on mental health.”
While 2020 was hard on the nation, for Black Americans, the burdens seemed heavier. Fisher-Willis says Black Americans have lived through a double pandemic.
The impact of these repeated horrific incidents and the disproportionately high mortality rate of the coronavirus in Black communities has inflicted trauma on the broader African American community.
To improve mental health resources provided through Work+Life Connections, UK HR collaborated with the College of Social Work (CoSW) to expand their services with therapists from diverse backgrounds to further support the mental health needs of Black and other diverse faculty and staff.
Work+Life Connections Counseling provides faculty, staff, retirees and their family members with five free counseling sessions with a certified or licensed therapist via telehealth. In addition to individual therapy, the team provides employees with mental health screenings, assessments and referrals to community-based resources, when needed.
Therapists can help with feelings of stress, anxiety, depression, isolation and grief as well as family or relationship issues, sleep difficulty, trauma, parenting, identity concerns, and challenges at work.
“The cost of therapy and a lack of mental health providers from diverse racial backgrounds are two of the biggest barriers to people seeking out help,” said Erika Chambers, HR director of employee engagement and Work-Life. “We are beginning to address these barriers through a partnership with the College of Social Work, and the support of Dean Jay Miller.”
Miller said the decision to collaborate with HR was an easy one.
“The overwhelming majority of mental health services are provided by social workers – so partnering with HR in this way is really a natural fit,” Miller said. “The College of Social Work is uniquely situated to partner in providing these services – we have clinical academic concentrations and work with others in the community to provide clinical supervision, services, education and training.”
“We wanted to get involved because it is vitally important that our faculty and staff have access to a diverse array of care providers,” Miller continued. “We are working with HR to ensure access to a diverse array of therapists, and we are continuing to assess ongoing need as it relates to D&I and will respond accordingly. Ensuring the mental wellbeing of our faculty and staff is a collective effort. That responsibility does not – and should not – fall solely to one unit or another. The College of Social Work is happy to contribute to the overall wellness mission of the university.”
Fisher-Willis believes these services are incredibly valuable. While it is up to employees to decide whether or not they feel they will benefit from these services, Fisher-Willis notes that free, diverse and available counseling services are a huge step in the right direction for creating this space.
“Representation always matters,” Fisher-Willis said. “It’s part of why I show up myself in this field, ready to work with clients to facilitate healing in their lives.
The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers." We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.