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MSE Library will provide art and tech-based mental health services

By KATY WILNER | March 12, 2020

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COURTESY OF KATY WILNER Operation A.R.T.S. designed a piece of artwork titled “Rainbow Nimbus” to improve wellbeing.

Once in-person classes resume at Homewood, on or after April 12, the Milton S. Eisenhower Library (MSE), in conjunction with the Office of Student Health and Well-Being and the Counseling Center, will continue to provide mental health services in Brody Learning Commons.

The newest service, called the Wellness Station (the Station), is a collaborative display that incorporates elements from research done by the Digital Research & Curation Center (DRCC) and the University’s new SilverCloud initiative. SilverCloud, an online mental health resource that teaches self-guided cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, was made available to all full-time Hopkins students and trainees on Feb. 19.

The DRCC provides and develops information technology infrastructure in the Sheridan Libraries, focusing on engaging students and faculty with the University’s digital archive. 

A piece of artwork titled “Rainbow Nimbus,” which is comprised of colorful sculpted clouds, was designed for the Station by Operation A.R.T.S (Alliance for Responsible Trade & Sustainability). These clouds omit patterns of lights and sounds, aiming to support mental health through the psychology of color theory and light therapy.

According to the exhibit’s description, the sound and light patterns are supposed to represent the different changes and patterns in human minds.

“Sometimes, it is exciting and beautiful when your mind responds to external stimuli, like new experiences, interesting ideas, or pleasing sights and sounds,” the description reads. “Other moments, a near-constant input of thoughts, feelings, and information can cause stress and anxiety, which can in turn adversely affect mental and physical wellness.”

The research to develop the Station was spearheaded by Edwina Picon, a 2016 graduate currently pursuing a master’s degree in Clinical Medical Health Counseling from the School of Education. 

In an interview with The News-Letter, Picon explained that the Station, though not a substitute for therapy, intends to serve students in the library who are feeling depressed, anxious or stressed and who might not otherwise seek out mental health services.

“We’re trying to be there for students who might never come into the Counseling Center and not so much to substitute the Counseling Center. It’s for those who feel like they might not want to go and need baby steps to go there,” she said.

The Station, in addition to the art exhibit, features a large and small display monitor. On these monitors, students have access to SilverCloud and digital games that Picon and the DRCC selected.

Picon explained that a key point of the Station was to provide students with games, so they could relieve stress and take more mindful study breaks. These games were chosen based on positive feedback online, student usage and multiplayer capabilities.

For this project, Picon worked closely with the Associate Dean for Research Data Management Sayeed Choudhury. According to Choudhury, Picon was hired as a part of an information technology assistantship, which allows the MSE to hire an undergraduate or graduate student to look at the intersection of library technology with an issue that is relevant to their research field. 

Agreeing with Picon, Choudhury stated that the gaming aspect of the Station is crucial because research has shown the positive impacts that games can have on mental health.

“There’s evidence now to show that even a few minutes of playing certain games can help you with stress, or anxiety or depression,” he said. “It’s not in a deep and substantial way, and we recognize that, but if you’re just feeling anxious at a particular moment, rather than looking at Instagram or at a website, there’s more productive kinds of ways you can interact with digital resources.”

According to Picon, she collaborated regularly with Vice Provost for Student Health and Well-Being Kevin Shollenberger and the Counseling Center to implement the project. At a later date, the Counseling Center suggested that the display feature a visual component by Operation A.R.T.S to add an element of playfulness to the Station.

Choudhury noted that originally the Station was intended as a stand-alone display, but that the Office of Student Health and Well-Being later reached out to suggest that the display could help inform students of the new SilverCloud resource. 

Now, he said, the Station has become emblematic of the holistic approach the University is trying to take in response to mental health issues on campus, as indicated in the mental health survey sent out in 2018.

“We have a student advisory committee that told us that the library’s the place where they’re distressed the most, which we’re not happy to hear, but it’s not surprising because you’re focusing on midterms, papers and so on,” he said. “So how can the library be folded in to the overall fabric of what the University is trying to do around wellness and mental health?”

Aside from the Station, since the mental health survey, the University has made several other changes to promote student well-being on campus, including dedicating more resources to the Counseling Center so students have easier and more timely access to care. 

In addition to these efforts, A Place To Talk (APTT), an on-campus peer listening service, opened a new location in Brody in late 2018.

Sophomore David Hilden, who is a peer listener for APTT, wrote in an email to The News-Letter that the library is a critical location to provide well-being resources to Hopkins students. 

“The library is the place where I personally spend a lot of my time, and I have seen my fair share of tears. As a cornerstone of life at Hopkins, our library has a responsibility to provide mental health resources and attempt whatever they can to improve the stressful and toxic environment that hangs over Brody,” he wrote.

Additionally, Hilden detailed the impact that APTT has had on library culture, emphasizing the importance of in-person, easily accessible care.

“This is a main reason that opening the Brody room was so important for APTT and is definitely reaching more students than we would be able to if we only had rooms in dorms,” he wrote. “More and more resources must continue to become available for our student body and the library is a great place to roll them out.”

Although Hilden doesn’t believe that the Station will have a long-term impact on student mental health in the library, he thinks that it shows that the University is making an effort to change students’ relationship to stress. 

He hopes that the library and the administration will continue to invest resources to experiment with initiatives like this.

When asked about the funding for the Station, Picon emphasized that the program received money from a suicide prevention grant. She acknowledged that because the grant was given from an outside agency and was specifically designed for suicide prevention strategies, the money had to be allocated to a specific project.

“We know that some people would rather the University put money towards hiring more staff in the Counseling Center,” Picon said. “However, we actually couldn’t use this money from the grant to hire a psychologist because it was specifically coming from an agency and it was about suicide prevention. So, [the Station] wasn’t actually taking resources from somewhere else.”

Both Picon and Choudhury stressed the fact that the Wellness Station is a pilot initiative and they encourage students to send in any feedback they may have on the display. 

In the meantime, they intend to monitor data and battery usage to determine how students are utilizing the resource.

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