By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)–In a time of extreme social disruption, students across the country are working hard to complete their academic year.
For some IU Southeast students, the Covid-19 pandemic is both a disruption and an opportunity to respond to the needs of others in the community.
Emily Kuprianczyk ‘16 is working towards a Masters in Mental Health Counseling. She is also working as a family support specialist at the New Albany office of Centerstone, a nationwide provider of a broad range of mental health counseling services.
On a normal day, she delivers therapy, life skills, and case management services to children and their families in school settings, in particular Hazelwood Middle School and Clarksville High School. She meets with each of her clients roughly once each week.
Covid-19 has changed all that.
Her work has shifted online, as she now offers support to clients and their families through telephone calls, video chats, emails and other modalities of what is known as telehealth services.
“Much of the work I find myself doing right now is helping my clients develop coping skills, life skills, manage self-care, and working to ensure that each family is staying as safe as possible,” Kuprianczyk said.
It is challenging work.
“Most individuals in our community are struggling to cope with employment, financial and educational changes,” said Dr. Kimberly LaFollette, assistant professor of psychology and director of the Masters in Mental Health Counseling program at IU Southeast. “These rapid, uncontrollable changes lead to stress, and increased stress leads to an increase in mental health disorders.”
These are the shifting realities that Kuprianczyk encounters on a daily basis.
“More often than not, I am seeing many of my clients and families struggling to adjust to the change due to job loss, parents working from home while providing home schooling to their kiddos, loss of social interaction, and just the general stress of staying safe during the pandemic,” Kuprianczyk said.
For LaFollette, the physical and economic toll of the pandemic can easily overshadow its impact on mental health, with serious consequences.
“Mental health is often overlooked as it is not always seen as an important part of overall health,” LaFollette said. “During this time many individuals are focused on maintaining physical health and financial security and mental health is put on the back burner.”
In addition, stigmas about reaching out for help persist.
Yet precisely in such times, when face-to-face counseling might lapse due to restrictions on social contact, it is more necessary than ever to help individuals and families identify skills that help them cope with hardship.
Kuprianczyk and others in the Masters in Mental Health Counseling program who are delivering services online are making sure that the crucial bonds between individuals and their mental health support system remain intact.
For LaFollette, this continuity is an important component of the master’s program.
“The Masters in Mental Health Counseling program and its students are committed to the health and well-being of those in our community even during the most trying times,” LaFollette said. “While our students are facing their own educational, health and financial struggles they continue to work toward reaching out to the most vulnerable members of our community to ensure their safety and well-being.”
As challenging as the situation is, Kuprianczyk is gratified to see her clients working hard to support one another, and is motivated to be part of that process.
“I am so thankful that I am able to be available to my clients and their families to help them get through these difficult times,” Kuprianczyk said. “The more our community can stand together, the stronger we will be when this is all over.”
Homepage photo: Emily Kuprianczyk receives her undergraduate diploma from IU Southeast Chancellor Dr. Ray Wallace.