From well-known athletes like Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles and Lane Johnson to superstar celebrities like rapper Kanye (Ye) West and comedian Pete Davidson, the topic of mental health awareness has been at the forefront of many people’s minds.
In an effort to help students adapt to these challenging times, the Rowan College of South Jersey (RCSJ) Wellness Center at Cumberland is dedicated to assisting them in attaining positive health outcomes. The Center also provides a safe space where students can go if they are looking to find some inner peace.
“We offer full, clinical counseling services,” said John Wojtowicz, director, Student Counseling & Wellness. “We also offer case management, and we have a food pantry. We kind of operate more like a community health center.”
The director added that the Wellness Center is available to Cumberland students who are “just having a bad day or if they have a pervasive and persistent mental concern.”
“We have case management where we can get students connected with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP),” said Wojtowicz. “If a student is homeless, if their electricity is turned off at home, or if their water gets shut off, we’re here to navigate those environmental concerns.”
Since March 2020, the pandemic has been looming like an ominous cloud. The counselors at the Wellness Center have observed its effect on students.
“We’ve definitely noticed that students are not as involved and engaged because they’re dealing with so many stressors in their personal lives,” said Ruby Aparicio-Pagan, Licensed Social Worker, mental health counselor at the Center. “It has definitely impacted them socially, emotionally, mentally and physically.”
“Students have a grieving process they go through because they didn’t have the normal high school senior experience and now, they’re not having that normal college experience,” said Mary Brown, graduate student and intern at the Wellness Center. “I think that’s a huge adjustment for a lot of our students.”
The counselors shared a few thoughts about how students can cultivate a healthy state of mind.
“I don’t think there’s a quick fix. It’s going to take some time,” said Aparicio-Pagan. “But I do firmly believe there are little lifestyle changes you can make to take care of yourself, like participating in sound healing events that we’re going to be offering on campus. Anything that brings you happiness and just a little pocket of peace.”
“I agree with Ruby. It’s about adapting,” said Wojtowicz, who loves literature, writing and performing poetry at open mics. “The things you do every day are going to affect your health outcomes as far as wellness, as far as physical health, as well as mental health. It’s not the one vacation you take a year, or the one workshop you get involved in. It’s those small adjustments every day that are going to lead to that.
“I think our students have been, in that way, very resilient in adapting to mental health,” he continued. “There’s a learning curve for everybody in this new space we’re living in. What students can do is just continue to adapt, to take it one day at a time, and keep their eyes on their goals. Don’t focus on how things should have been and move towards accepting how things are.”
Aparicio-Pagan, who enjoys listening and dancing to Cumbia, also noted the importance of those in the public eye, like Osaka and Biles, and how they’ve shared their experiences with the world. “I would hope that these two amazing female athletes speaking up about their struggles encourages not only our students, but all of us to work on our mental health. I am extra hopeful that their message will reach those who traditionally and statistically do not speak about mental health or access services, for example people of color,” she said.
The RCSJ Wellness Center at Cumberland is a welcoming place for students who may feel uncomfortable sharing their feelings with family and friends. “The clinicians here are just regular people,” said Wojtowicz. “We’re not here to analyze or diagnose. Think of it as a safe space to vent and talk and a place where you can make a plan. The person you’re talking to is not going to judge you. We’re just here to support the students.”
The counselors at the Wellness Center have a valuable message they want to share with the student body.
“I encourage students to take advantage of wellness services,” said Wojtowicz. “You don’t have to be at the end of your rope. We encourage students to be proactive about their mental health and take those mindful moments throughout the day. Find things that bring them joy and incorporate that into their schoolwork and into their lives. I think this is a key component of success.”
Aparicio-Pagan agrees: “Don’t wait until you’re in the burning building and have a firefighter come to save you. Come and see us. Please take advantage of these resources while you can.”
For more information about the RCSJ Wellness Center at Cumberland, visit RCSJ.edu/CWS/Cumberland. For information about upcoming RCSJ Wellness Wednesday events, visit RCSJ.edu/CWS/WellnessWednesdayEvents.