University faculty, students provide virtual, free counseling to community

Dealing with mental health during COVID-19 pandemic

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Since the COVID-19 outbreak, mental health professionals say those with a history of issues are more likely to experience them again, while many who have never had a problem could struggle.

It’s why students and faculty at a New Orleans University are using new ways to meet the needs of their clients and the community.

University of Holy Cross is now online, but graduate students and faculty are still offering services, not only to their existing clients but to anyone struggling with mental health.

“It’s been a huge undertaking. As a faculty, it’s not something we were planning to do,” said University of Holy Cross Professor of Mental Health Counseling Dr. Roy Salgado Jr.

When University of Holy Cross counseling professors learned the city was preparing to shut down amidst the Coronavirus outbreak, they immediately opted to continue caring for their clients.

"If we were to simply stop providing services, that these individuals with these underlying mental health conditions during such a stressful time, those issues could be compounded," explained Salgado.

A mandatory meeting was called for March 13 and 14. By Monday March 16, all of Thomas E. Chambers Counseling services were online.

“We transitioned from face-to-face to telemental health overnight,” Salgado said.

That included successfully training more than 80 masters and doctoral level counseling students.

“It’s been great. The clients have been very appreciative of being able to continue to receive their services,” said Salgado.

Yet, it’s not just established clients, anymore. The counseling center recently expanded services to include anyone struggling with mental health issues, free of charge.

"Those who typically don't experience trauma or mental health or don't have that as part of their history are feeling unsettled right now. This is so unusual," Salgado said.

Salgado says phone lines have been inundated since launching the complimentary program, many of them parents.

“Schedule a time to talk to your kids and be honest about what’s going on,” said health educator Dr. Eric Griggs. “Find ways to explain the situation to your kids and you’ll understand it better yourself.”

Griggs says, in these times, it’s critical parents keep an especially close eye out for any changes in their children.

"Back to acting like a baby, clingy behaviors, mood swings, acting out, changes in appetite, changes in sleep, all the things you would look for in your child in normal circumstances but in this situation you want to be hyper aware," Griggs explained.

Griggs says the type of virtual service Salgado and his team offer can be a valuable resource for struggling parents, but anyone is welcome to make an appointment.

"When we see that our date today interactions with people with regard to our family, our work, our academics is being impeded, at that point, it might be necessary to get some additional professional help," explained Salgado.

Initial clients are assessed to see if counseling is right for them with access to other resources available. The faculty and students at the University of Holy Cross do not prescribe medication but can coordinate care with other physicians.

Salgado says free counseling for the community aligns with the University of Holy Cross’s mission and the spirit in which it was founded.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, call the Thomas E. Chambers Counseling and Training Center at 504-398-2168.

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