Keeping Students Focused on Mental Wellness

MCLA Sounseling Services on video call
MCLA's Counseling Services staff on a recent virtual check-in. 


Through the pandemic, and through the summer, MCLA’s Counseling Services staff have been reaching out to students, offering mental health support, and distributing information about how to maintain some consistency through a crisis.

“There has been a lot of adapting,” said Heidi Riello, MSW, LICSW, who directs MCLA’s counseling center. “This is new to every one of us.” 

After the spring semester moved to virtual instruction, Counseling Services moved its appointments with existing students to, a widely used telemedicine platform. “Our initial response was to email students who were already active clients to let them know the tele-therapy option was available to them if they wanted to connect with their counselor through the platform,” Riello said. 

Students have also been able to connect with their counselors via phone, or have opted to turn off the video aspect of their appointments. Those who may not have space to speak privately have been able to use the platform’s chat function.

Though part-time counselor positions are currently suspended, students have been able to connect with three full-time counselors, including Riello, Jon Meehan, MSSW, LICSW, and Roxanne Morton-Fili, MSW. Meehan and the department’s office manager, Marissa Parker, are still working out of MCLA’s MountainOne Student Wellness Center, along with the College’s Health Services staff. 

“I can only speak to the students I’ve been in contact with, but our students, for the most part, are doing OK. They are functioning to the best of their ability,” Riello said. “A handful are really struggling. A lot of the work we’ve been doing is case management: How are you doing? What was this week like? What do you need?”

Riello said establishing a routine is a large part of maintaining wellness through this uncertain and unusual times. “Try to maintain a regular schedule,” she said. “You have to get yourself up every day. We’ve been encouraging students to try to get outside, engage in physical activity, get some sunlight, and try to limit media exposure, because it’s so destructive to how we feel sometimes.” 

Other tips for mental wellness: “Try to stay connected to family and friends remotely,” said Riello. “And ask for help when you need it.”

The Counseling Services staff have also been connecting students with the MCLA Resiliency Fund, which provides financial support for those with emergency circumstances related to the pandemic. “Many of them have accessed Resiliency Fund money, which is great,” Riello said. “It’s good to make contact with students and to hear they’re safe, and for the most part, doing OK. It’s good to validate those experiences.”

Riello said she’s proud of the dedication her staff has shown, including by part-time counselors Joan Dornhoefer, MSW, LCSW-R, and Claire Cabiles MSW, LICSW. “I’m proud of how willing and easily Jon and Roxanne jumped right in and adjusted to the use of the platform,” she said. “And I’m proud of our commitment to our students—including tracking some of our higher-risk students down, even if they didn’t want to use the platform, just to make sure they are OK.” 

Riello has also been impressed with how MCLA’s students adjusted to remote learning, and with the importance they place on mental wellness. “This generation doesn’t stigmatize it at all,” she said. “Our students have been remarkably adaptable. Many of them are adaptable to begin with; they have had to be. The move to remote learning was kind of just another obstacle.”


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