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Iowa State mobile mental health program teaches students stress-management skills

Ames Tribune - 3/8/2019

March 08-- Mar. 8--A mobile mental health program recently launched at Iowa State University teaches students stress-management skills and connects them to additional campus resources.

Iowa State Student Wellness Assistant Director Brian Vanderheyden said the program is called the Tap Room because it helps people on campus make room to tap into themselves.

"(It is) creating an intentional space for people to focus on their mental health," he said.

Vanderheyden said rooms are requested by staff, faculty and students to be set up in a pop-up shop fashion. Then peer wellness educators and student ambassadors put together activities for the room, which will be available anywhere from two to eight hours.

"(The room is) where we can go and really transform any space like a lounge space or eating room, and create it into a tap room space that people can request," he said.

The room allows students or faculty to take some time out during the day to learn and practice research-based strategies in the space and take an intentional break from the day.

The relaxation and stress-reduction exercises that are taught in the room include guided meditation, biofeedback, light and aroma therapy, using self-massage canes, mind puzzles, journaling exercises and creative therapy.

Vanderheyden said the research behind stress and its effect on students is the main reason they teach these exercises.

"Stress, from our data at Iowa State, is consistently reported (as an) impediment for academic learning," he said. "Helping people learn some evidence-based research strategies and things they can, not only do in the space, but in their own homes."

Some of the tap rooms are geared specifically toward staff and faculty only, or for students only, he said. For student-only tap rooms, the goal is to use peer-to-peer assistance so students can work together and also connect other students to mental health resources on campus.

A long-term goal for the student wellness department is creating permanent tap rooms into each college or specific popular areas to create greater accessibility and availability for campus resources.

Not only that, Vanderheyden said spreading these rooms around campus could help break the stigma of mental health and seeking support.

"It will reduce barriers and also produce opportunities," he said. "If it's in the environment, it becomes normative."

Vanderheyden said mental health or wellness space for students are becoming a popular initiative across the United States due to the open dialogue about mental illness and particularly -- stress.

"Stress is a big conversation nationally and this is one small step as many as we are rolling out and introduce to campus, that is really focused on producing results," he said.

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