Health and wellness resources adapt to serve students

In the midst of a global pandemic, health and safety are on a lot of people’s minds. Knowing what resources are available is important in assisting people with finding the help they need. Luckily for Hope College students, there are resources right here on campus dedicated to health and wellness: the Health Center and Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS).

According to its director, Cindy Sabo, the Health Center is now operating out of two facilities. This is being done in an effort to keep potentially infected people away from those who are coming in for reasons unrelated to COVID-19. Their usual location in the Dow Center is where students can go for routine visits like injuries or flu vaccinations. 

Additionally, the Health Center has a new location for COVID-19 testing. This is where all testing will occur, whether someone is experiencing symptoms or they have been selected for the randomized surveillance testing that the school is conducting. Within this testing center, safeguards are set up to prevent healthy people from being exposed.

“The surveillance [testing] is on one side and the symptomatic, or the sick students’ side, is on the other side,” Sabo said. 

When it comes to testing, not all students know the point at which they should make an appointment. However, Sabo says that symptoms do not need to be serious for someone to get tested; students can get tested as soon as they develop symptoms. In fact, Sabo says that it’s better if students don’t wait to see if their symptoms go away.

“I think sometimes students think, ‘Oh it’s just a minor little cold; it’s just a little bit of a sore throat. It’s not COVID. I don’t have to be tested,’” Sabo said. “But that’s what we’re seeing. Our positive tests, or our positive cases, have been minor. So we definitely want students with any type of COVID-like symptoms to just test them and make sure it’s not COVID first.”

Of course, with this time of year being allergy season, many people are already experiencing COVID-like symptoms. Sabo says that the key to deciphering between the two is for each person to think about what is normal for their body.

“We want students to pick up on ‘this is something that’s not normal.’ So if I normally have a runny nose and a little bit of a cough during allergy season and this seems right, then that’s good. But if not, we want to test them,” Sabo said.

In addition to getting tested for COVID-19 when necessary, Sabo also urges students to get their flu shot this year. She explains that this is so important because not only do the two illnesses have similar symptoms, but someone could potentially get both at the same time, which would be worse than just having one. According to Sabo, the Health Center will start administering flu vaccines in the next two or three weeks. Like most services that the Health Center offers, both COVID-19 testing and flu vaccines are free to all full-time students.

The physical ramifications of this virus are obvious, but the mental toll it has taken on people is also very real. CAPS is a resource on campus that is available to help students who are hurting in this way. 

Dr. Kristen Gray, the director of CAPS, said there are two main things that she is seeing people struggling with right now: loneliness and “ambiguous grief.”

The loneliness she mentions is pretty straightforward. Students were stuck at home for months, unable to see their friends, and now that they are back, they are still not able to interact in the same ways they always have. Large groups are unable to gather, and even small groups are limited in where they can meet on campus.

Ambiguous grief is a little more complicated, as its name implies. “That means that there are all these losses that are going on that people can’t even name. You can’t even see them,” Gray said. “I think there are these layers of grief, of things that we’re missing, that we might be aware that we’re missing, but not really.”

An example Gray gave of this is students’ inability to run up to friends they see on their way to class to give them a hug. This brief interaction that was once so commonplace is now missing from people’s daily lives.

Whatever emotions students are feeling right now, CAPS is prepared to help. While appointments may not look the same as they have in the past due to COVID-19 restrictions, students are still able to meet with a counselor.

Currently, CAPS is doing virtual appointments, and they are being very flexible as to what exactly that looks like in order to find what makes each student most comfortable. Many of these appointments are done via video calls, but other students would rather just talk on the phone. Regardless of which format a student chooses, they are still able to have the same quality of appointments as they would for an in-person session.

“I’m surprised at how well I can see people, how well we can connect, how it still feels very honest and open to me,” Gray said. “I did not know if we would have more stunted emotional openness over video, and what’s been interesting to me is sometimes students seem more open over the distance. So that’s been a really delightful surprise, that we can be pretty true to our calling.”

Appointments may look different this year, but the CAPS team is just as committed to supporting the students of Hope as they have always been.

“We have moved back to the core of what we do, and that means working with students,” Gray says. “I think whenever there’s a crisis, it’s good to go back to what’s core in our lives, and so we’re doing that at CAPS.”

While CAPS is dedicated to the students of Hope, Gray recognizes that not everyone is comfortable talking to the same people. Some students may like talking with a counselor, but others may prefer talking with a chaplain, in which case Campus Ministries is another resource available to them. Additionally, Gray says that is a search engine that can help people find a therapist if students would rather see someone off-campus.

Whether students are looking to make an appointment with the Health Center or with CAPS, they can schedule a visit by phone. The number for each resource is listed below.

Health Center:     (616) 395-7585                  CAPS:     (616) 395-7945

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