Care Team offers students resources to help prevent stress

You might know Lisa Terwilliger as the ‘Jolly Rancher’ lady. Her office is strewn with the hard candy. Terwilliger is the Care Team Coordinator and learned at a conference that Jolly Ranchers can be used a coping mechanism.

“If you suck on a Jolly Rancher and you don’t talk, you’re just sucking, you’re initiating your most primitive coping skill. You’re releasing endorphins in your brain from the sugar in the candy. It gives you time to ‘ride the wave,’ to go from anger to mere annoyance.”

UAA’s Care Team is made up of nine faculty members who meet each week to discuss ways to help students and recommendations for students in need. Recommendations are sent to the Dean of Students if further action is needed. The Care Team is a resource for students and faculty to get students the help they need. Whether a student is dealing with a legal issue and doesn’t know who to turn to, or a more serious issue of self harm or harm towards others, the Care Team is there to guide students on the path to relieving stress and issues in their lives.

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The Care Team booth at the 2015 Campus Kickoff event. Photo credit: Courtesy of The Care Team

“The reason we are named Care Team is because we want everyone on campus to know that they’re cared for,” Terwilliger said.

Anyone in the community can refer students who they fear may be in distress. Distressed students can range from students falling behind in school, to students dealing with stresses outside of the classroom. The Care Team then reaches out to the student in need and offers them resources to help the student relieve whatever stress and issues they are dealing with.

“The whole purpose of the Care Team is to try to get the message out to everyone on campus and the community that they can refer to us. When people are referred to us they aren’t in trouble. We are really here to make sure that student needs are met — are advocated for, so the student can stay in school,” Terwilliger said.

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Residence Life has their own Care Team, specifically for those students living on campus. Each Resident Advisor is educated about the Care Team so they can better help students living in student housing find the resources they need if a crisis is suspected.

In the three years that Terwilliger has served as the Care Team coordinator, Care Team referrals have increased by 139 percent. During the 2015-2016 school year there were over 70 student-initiated referrals — the year prior, there were only two. Outreach about the Care Team can help other students get the help they need.

“They are seeing the value of our services. It can be something from being homeless, or they are sick and they don’t know how to negotiate their insurance. I’ll help them with that,” Terwilliger said. “It could be they have broken up with their partner, and they don’t want to go to counseling, but are looking for something else. People who are looking for friends, [had] deaths in the family, anything that will send someone in crisis — anything that can cause a student to go into crisis we want to know about, get in touch with the student and let them know that they are cared for.”

Emotional well-being is the number one concern in Care Team referrals, followed by physical well-being, complaints and disruption and intellectual well-being. Risk assessment is reported the least.

Only three risk assessments have been made for students who had the potential to harm others and themselves. It is the Care Team’s goal to catch students in the early stages of distress, preventing self harm and harm towards others.

“No one comes to college to complete a suicide or to kill anyone else. They come for an education. Things happen that cause them to have those thoughts,” Terwilliger said.

Many students at UAA come to the Care Team with feelings of loneliness and no sense of belonging. Terwilliger’s goal in relieving this issue was to create a place where anyone in the community can come and be among friends.

Inspired by a book she found at Title Wave, Terwilliger opened the first Care Team book club last fall with “Be The Miracle” by Regina Brett. The book club is every Thursday from 10:30 – 11:30 a.m. in the Den. A therapy dog is present at all meetings to comfort readers and listeners. Reading the book is not required and passages of a chosen book will be read aloud and discussed by anyone comfortable with sharing. The book club is for both students and faculty and will start September 1.

“I wanted students to know they are cared for and this is a place for people to go and connect with others. This is a safe place to go,” Terwilliger said.

The Care Team is available to help with stress in any student’s life. Students are also welcome to self-refer if they have an issue they need help overcoming.

Referrals to the Care Team can be made online, in person in the Care Team office in Rasmuson 112, by email at [email protected], or by phone at 907-786-6065. Anonymous referrals can only be made online.