A student organization at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine recently led a campaign aimed at opening a dialogue about how COVID-19 has affected medical students’ mental health.

Student org at OUWB leads COVID-19 mental health awareness campaign

A student organization at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine recently led a campaign aimed at opening a dialogue about how COVID-19 has affected medical students’ mental health.

The Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association (APAMSA) at OUWB created and hosted the campaign entitled “Socially Distant but Emotionally Connected: 6 Feet Closer During Quarantine.” The campaign was open to the entire OUWB community and held in conjunction with May’s Mental Health Awareness Month and Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

During the two-week campaign, APAMSA featured video stories via social media of OUWB students and faculty reflecting on the impact of COVID-19 on their mental health.The campaign also included daily challenges and inspirational posters featuring OUWB students and faculty.

The goal was to start an open, honest dialogue in the OUWB community with hopes to encourage positive mental health practices as well as peer support during these trying times, said rising second-year medical student (M2) Brianna Gibney, president, APAMSA at OUWB.

“One of the main messages we wanted to share is that we are all in this together as a community, and as a medical school” Gibney said.

“We want to still be emotionally connected and foster support among the OUWB community even though we’re apart.”

APAMSA is a national organization of medical and pre-medical students committed to addressing the unique health challenges of Asian and Pacific Islander American communities.

APAMSA serves as a forum for student leaders to engage these health issues and develop initiatives and projects addressing those needs. The local, regional, and national activities of APAMSA aim to promote the health of the APIA community and help health care workers understand how to care for APIA patients in a culturally sensitive manner.

Additionally, APAMSA provides an important venue for medical students to meet, exchange experiences, and develop personally and professionally through leadership and service.

The OUWB chapter of APAMSA was founded in 2015 and there are 20 members. Gibney said it’s important to note that APAMSA is open to all OUWB students.

Breaking the stigma

A graphic with various tips on dealing with stress caused by COVID-19.The OUWB chapter held its first mental health campaign in 2019. The effort helped the organization win Best Chapter in Mental Health at the APAMSA 2019 National Conference in New York City last October.

According to Gibney, mental health is a big issue for APAMSA across the nation because it often is a heavily tabooed topic in the Asian Pacific Islander community. Many individuals are often dismissed when trying to speak out about their struggles due to cultural expectations and norms, which is why it’s APAMSA’s goal to break this stigma, she said.

With the COVID-19 in play this year, the OUWB APAMSA chapter wanted to focus on how the pandemic is impacting the mental health of students and faculty — a new component of the campaign for 2020.

“With everyone being isolated from each other we thought it would be good to also include faculty members this year,” said Han Ngo, vice president of OUWB’s APAMSA chapter.

During the campaign, students from every class as well as some faculty members participated in the effort. Some submitted written statements and others recorded videos, all with the same intent.

“They talked about how they have spent their time during COVID-19 and what has helped them cope with the stress…how they work to maintain good mental health,” said Ngo. “We also asked them to send a message to the entire OUWB community to not only stay connected to other people, but help us stay connected to ourselves.”

Rising M2 Nayiri Khatchadourian also shared a video as part of the campaign.

Among other things, Khatchadourian said she worries everyday how the changes caused by COVID-19 will impact her schooling.

She also stressed the importance of talking about such concerns with others during these trying times.

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“You could help at least one other person who is going through the same thing who thinks they’re the only one struggling or worrying about that situation,” she said.

In addition to students sharing their respective stories, every day the campaign also had small mental health challenges — such as trying a new recipe or making a funny meme about medical school and COVID-19.

Ngo said it was part of effort to emphasize that “It’s important to stay positive.”

“Sometimes it’s hard for us to do that during quarantine — we need a little nudge, a little push,” she said. “The hope is that through these challenges, people have more courage to do things that they wouldn’t have the courage to do normally.”

Gibney said she considers the campaign a success.

“Our main aim was to bring our community together and open a dialogue,” she said. “We wanted people to hear from their classmates and faculty…how they’re doing, what their struggles are, and how they’re coping so that people know they aren’t alone.”

OUWB’s social worker is Janae Kinn, LMSW. (For advice from Kinn on how to handle the stress and uncertainty caused by COVID-19, check out the story called ‘Unprecedented, scary time’: OUWB social worker offers tips on how to cope with COVID-19.”)

For more information, contact Andrew Dietderich, marketing writer, OUWB, at adietderich@oakland.edu

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