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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2021  |  Volume : 35  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 22-25

MS-speech-language pathology student mental health: Establishing a virtual safety net during COVID-19

Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Florida International University, Miami, Florida, USA

Date of Submission22-Mar-2021
Date of Decision10-Apr-2021
Date of Acceptance15-Apr-2021
Date of Web Publication28-Jun-2021

Correspondence Address:
Angela Marie Medina
Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Florida International University, 11200 SW 8th Street, AHC3-441, Miami, Florida 33199
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/jisha.jisha_7_21

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The purpose of this paper is to describe the implementation of a remote mindfulness program designed to serve as a mental health resource for MS-speech-language pathology students coping with the initial restrictions related to COVID-19. A cursory review of the literature outlining the negative social, emotional, and psychological impact COVID-19 has had on graduate students is presented. The benefits of mindfulness practice are well-documented, therefore, making it an appropriate mental health resource for minimizing the loneliness, stress, anxiety, and uncertainty experienced by students. Elements of a remote mindfulness program implemented within days of the stay-at-home order are described including the theoretical framework, session content, as well as strategies, techniques, and resources for independent practice.

Keywords: COVID-19, mental health, mindfulness, speech-language pathology students

How to cite this article:
Medina AM, Mead JS. MS-speech-language pathology student mental health: Establishing a virtual safety net during COVID-19. J Indian Speech Language Hearing Assoc 2021;35:22-5

How to cite this URL:
Medina AM, Mead JS. MS-speech-language pathology student mental health: Establishing a virtual safety net during COVID-19. J Indian Speech Language Hearing Assoc [serial online] 2021 [cited 2021 Dec 2];35:22-5. Available from: https://www.jisha.org/text.asp?2021/35/1/22/319603

  Introduction Top

COVID-19 has changed the world as we know it. The latest research has shown that this pandemic has had a negative impact on the mental health of adults with increases in panic disorders,[1] anxiety,[1],[2],[3],[4],[5],[6],[7],[8] fear,[5],[6],[9],[10],[11] depression,[1],[2],[4],[5],[7],[8],[9],[12] suicide rates,[5],[13] self-harm,[5] psychological distress,[1],[8] domestic violence,[3],[5],[6],[13] posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms,[12],[14] and impaired sleep.[2],[4],[5],[7],[9] Graduate students are no exception. The unexpected changes and uncertainty brought on by the pandemic have had a critically adverse impact on the mental health of students including symptoms of anxiety,[15],[16],[17],[18],[19],[20],[21],[22],[23],[24],[25],[26],[27],[28],[29] stress and psychological distress;[15],[16],[20],[22],[23],[26],[27],[30],[31],[32],[33] depression or depressive thoughts[15],[18],[19],[21],[22],[23],[24],[25],[26],[27],[34] obsessive–compulsive behaviors,[34],[35] worsening of sleep quality;[25] and in severe cases, suicidal thoughts.[27]

The dramatic and sudden shift in learning modes from the traditional face-to-face format to the virtual modality has been shown to play a role in this mental health crisis in academia.[30],[32] With this new mode of learning, some students had to cope with challenges such as poor or nonexistent Internet connectivity and unfavorable home conditions for studying.[21] With widespread lockdown orders, these students could not go to campus, or anywhere else, for Internet access and quiet study spaces. Lockdowns also caused disruption of internship placements,[36],[37] uncertainty about graduation dates,[32],[36] as well as an overwhelming sense of loneliness.[15],[16],[34],[38]

Faculty involved with students during this time were confronted with the heaviness their students were feeling. In response to these unprecedented circumstances, the authors implemented a remote mindfulness program for graduate speech-language pathology (SLP) students. The intention of this initiative was to provide students with a space to reconnect with their peers, share their thoughts, and also to learn strategies to mitigate the isolation, stress, anxiety, uncertainty, and other negative feelings they were coping with due to the sudden changes brought on by COVID-19 restrictions. The authors chose mindfulness as the foundation of this program given the scientific evidence that stress and anxiety can be significantly reduced through the practice of mindfulness.[39],[40],[41],[42],[43],[44] Practicing being in the present moment facilitates stress reduction and can help individuals cope with challenges in a calmer way. The benefits of practicing mindfulness can be noted immediately as well as across the long term. Immediate benefits are typically reported as feeling more peaceful, calm, and relaxed,[40],[45] while long-term benefits include positive changes in brain structure and function (e.g.,[46]). Prior to COVID-19, research has shown that mindfulness practices have been beneficial for SLP students.[47],[48],[49],[50] Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to describe the implementation of a remote self-care resource that was designed to address the critical issue of student mental health related to COVID-19.

  Elements of the Remote Mindfulness Program Top

Within days of the stay at home order being issued in South Florida, two graduate SLP faculty members (one who has been practicing mindfulness, meditation, and yoga for over 35 years and the other who has expertise in the areas of counseling, group therapy, and wellness-based approaches) initiated the program described below. The first- and second-year graduate SLP cohorts (n = 90) were sent an open invitation to join once a week via Zoom. Since this was an extracurricular resource, students were not required to commit to attending all sessions; rather, they were invited to come when they could and as they saw fit. Sessions were offered remotely via Zoom for 30 min once a week for 5 weeks. Students had the option of participating synchronously or asynchronously. The synchronous sessions were recorded and made available for those who could not attend live.

  Theoretical Orientation Top

Mindfulness is defined by Kabat-Zinn as the state of being fully aware, moment by moment, on purpose, without judgment, in an accepting way.[51] Mindfulness can be practised throughout the day by being aware of routine activities. For example, while gardening, one may notice the scent and feel of the soil, the feeling of the sun on their skin, or the colors they observe in their surroundings. Paying attention to the sounds in the immediate or distant environment will anchor one into the present moment. Formal meditation and practicing breathing techniques are also ways to foster mindfulness.

  Session Content Top

Each session consisted of a combination of various components of mindfulness instruction such as centering, guided meditation, exploration of a theme, breath work, gentle stretches, and group reflection. Sessions started with centering, which included an invitation to sit comfortably, calm the busy mind, and relax. The facilitator then guided the students in short meditation practice which included body scan, sensory perception, breath awareness, and focus on natural elements [Table 1]. Following a guided meditation, the session topic was introduced. The exploration of the session topics was a means to familiarize students with concepts and philosophies of mindfulness practice. The mindfulness facilitator then described the benefits, mechanics, and applicability of the session's selected breathing technique. This was followed by group practice of the technique guided by the facilitator. Techniques included alternate nostril breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, and counting the duration of inhaling and exhaling breaths. Occasionally, students were guided in yoga postures and Tai Chi movements; however, they were not essential elements of each session. These sessions also provided students an opportunity to engage in a group conversation to share their feelings, perceptions, and to reconnect.
Table 1: Key session elements

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  Strategies, Techniques, and Resources for Independent Practice Top

Students were encouraged to continue their meditation and mindfulness practice on a daily basis. They were provided with recommendations for smartphone meditation applications that would provide them with guidance through daily meditations and breathing techniques. In addition, students were reminded during each session on ways to be mindful throughout the day by focusing on the senses during daily activities. Examples of this included noticing the texture of their shoelaces while they tie their shoes; feeling the bristles of a toothbrush against their gums while brushing their teeth; tuning into each of the ambient noises in their homes, or focusing on their breathing before getting out of their cars. To facilitate frequent reminders and dissemination of ideas for independent mindfulness practice, a closed Facebook group was developed for the students. While the facilitator was the primary contributor to the group message board, the students were invited to post and share their own resources such as inspirational memes and pictures, quotes, YouTube videos, and articles about mindfulness and meditation.

  Conclusion Top

Even though the full extent of lasting psychosocial consequences due to the pandemic is not known, the current literature shows enough evidence that action needs to be taken. Therefore, the purpose of this paper was to describe an extracurricular resource used to address the critical issue of COVID-19's adverse impact on graduate SLP student mental health. Before the pandemic, graduate school was already stressful and with the added variables related to COVID-19, research shows that stress levels continue to rise. Offerings such as mindfulness training may prove to be instrumental in helping students navigate the uncertainty they continue to face.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

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