Mental Health Awareness Month happenings for Penn faculty and staff

For Mental Health Awareness Month, the Division of Human Resources is hosting faculty and staff events focused on caregiving support, mindfulness, and nutrition, among other areas of need.

Woman meditating in sunlight

In recognition of May as Mental Health Awareness Month, the Division of Human Resources (HR) is sponsoring several events to assist Penn faculty and staff with coping. But the initiative, says Karen Kille, senior work-life consultant at HR, is also year-round

“For Human Resources, Mental Health Awareness Month is about more than events and more than a month,” she says. “Since March 2020, we have prioritized communications that reflect Penn’s long-standing commitment to emotional well-being. Articles in myHR have covered supporting your emotional health and the effects of national and regional [current] events, alcohol awareness, autism spectrum disorder awareness and acceptance, caring for your children’s well-being, and many others. “Mental health is always important, but with the far-reaching effects of the pandemic, reminding faculty and staff about how to access help and pay attention to their physical health and work-life is a priority. There’s a strong link between good mental health and good physical health, and vice versa.”

Stress management, sharing workspace with family members, caring for loved ones from afar, and various national and regional events are all challenges that weigh on faculty and staff at Penn, Kille says. HR has responded to the pandemic by expanding digital options in the Employee Assistance Program, sharing Wellness at Penn’s free Wellness Mindful Journaling App, and developing additional wellness offerings with Virgin Pulse—Penn’s new wellness platform partner. These resources, among others, can be accessed through the Mindwell at Penn portal.

‘Minding emotions’

Michael Baime, director of the Penn Program for Mindfulness in the Perelman School of Medicine, is a regular collaborator with HR for mindfulness events. For Mental Health Awareness Month, he will again host a workshop that details the practice, “Minding Your Emotions.”

“This will be an introduction to mindfulness with some discussion about what it is and why it’s helpful, with a particular focus on the way it helps us manage and more skillfully ‘hold’ emotion,” Baime says. “Because [mindfulness] isn’t a strategy of suppressing emotions; it’s actually more of a strategy that helps you deal with the emotions you’re having without getting tense, stressed, or reactive around them.”

Baime will elaborate on how mindfulness is defined, describing it, in short, as a “training of attention.” Baime has been teaching mindfulness at Penn since 1980; the Penn Program for Mindfulness was formally organized in 1991 and since then has trained more than 25,000 Penn students, employees, and public participants.

Mindfulness, he says, has reached more people in recent years as evidence has emerged demonstrating its effectiveness, and, he adds, as people experience busier lives or traumatic experiences like the pandemic. Matriculated students interested in mindfulness can sign up for the course “Mindfulness and Mind-Body Medicine” this fall, through the Perelman School of Medicine. Faculty and staff who attend Baime’s webinar on May 26 can also check back for other opportunities to work with Baime’s team through Penn Human Resources; the next program will be offered in the fall of 2021.

Below, a sampling of mental wellness events hosted by HR this month in support of the Penn community.

The Psychology of Eating: Does it Really Come Down to Willpower? (Friday, May 21, noon)

Disrupted exercise routines, dietary habits, the dreaded Zoom mirror, COVID-19 itself—there are many reasons the pandemic may have caused people to attach negative feelings to their body image. Those looking to examine their eating habits can chip away from at least one part of the problem: a Corporate Wellness Nutrition registered dietician will be on hand to discuss tricks to overcoming eating challenges. The dietician will include approaches to mindfulness, intuitive eating, and stress management.

Minding Your Emotions: A Mindfulness Meditation Workshop with Michael Baime (Wednesday, May 26, 12:30 p.m.)

Michael Baime, director of the Penn Program for Mindfulness, will conduct this approximately one-hour workshop with 25 minutes of mindfulness included. He will discuss how to “hold” emotions rather than suppress them or let them overwhelm. Baime stresses that everyone is invited regardless of previous experience with mindfulness and discussion is encouraged. Caregivers: Avoiding Burnout and Coping with

Caregivers: Avoiding Fatigue (Thursday, May 27, 10:15 a.m. and 4:15 p.m.)

According to 2020 data from AARP, there are 53 million family caregivers in the United States, 47.9 million of whom care for adults, and 41.8 million of whom care for loved ones 50 and older. Nearly a quarter of them care for more than one person. This is a stressor that could have felt overwhelming pre-pandemic, let alone today. HR is hosting several wellness webinars in May to provide Penn faculty and staff a space to feel camaraderie and learn how to cope while still engaging with caregiving. The Penn Employee Assistance Program will lead the webinar. Those who work as caregivers in their profession are also invited to attend.