The past year has impacted people in many ways. How they work, how they shop, how their kids go to school. It’s also changed the way people connect with one another.

Hugs and high-fives have given way to virtual get-togethers. More faculty and staff work remotely. But one thing hasn’t changed — people can all benefit from cultivating a sense of connection.

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month in May, university health and well-being experts encourage building belonging and support.

“Check in with one another. A kind action or expression of gratitude can go a long way,” said Preeti Malani, the university’s chief health officer. “When we show caring for one another, we help create positive connections and community.”

Social connectedness is closely connected to mental and emotional health. When people feel connected, they have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Feeling connected also helps to create more empathy between one another, and that leads to stronger relationships across our community.

“Showing empathy and compassion is a gift you can give to your colleagues and loved ones,” said Kelcey Stratton, resiliency and well-being services program manager at Michigan Medicine. “We can create opportunities to acknowledge the stress and fatigue that others are experiencing, and let them know that they are not alone. We could all use extra support and kindness in our lives, and there are resources available to help.”

Opportunities to connect

Throughout the year there are hundreds of activities and events open to every member of the university community. Visit the events calendar on Happening @ Michigan to see all there is to do.

There are some special opportunities planned in May that offer new ways to connect or reduce stress.

Fostering Social Connections Discussion Group – A three-session counselor-led group exploring communication, social norms and active listening. Starts May 5. Call 734-936-8660 or email fascco@umich.edu to sign up.

• A Space for Healing: Honoring our Experiences with COVID, a one-hour grief awareness event for Michigan Medicine faculty and staff. Four sessions: 5 p.m. May 5, 10 a.m. May 13, noon May 17, and 3 p.m. May 25. Register via Eventbright. More Grief Awareness Events are scheduled in May.

• Building Social Connection for Virtual Teams — Join MHealthy at 2 p.m. every Wednesday in May for ideas on building connection, increasing engagement and having fun. No registrations, simply join this Zoom. Learn more about each session.

• Mindfulness in the Museum — A one-hour docent-led experience using guided meditation to experience a specific work of art. Two events at 10 a.m. May 21 and 24. Space is limited. Learn more and register virtually for the May 21 and May 24 events.

Leaders Creating a Culture of Connection Sample Workshop – A 90-minute interactive session from 10-11:30 a.m. May 25 for leaders at all levels, including informal leaders and influencers. Learn strategies for supporting overall well-being and how to arrange a custom workshop for your whole team. Register via Zoom.

Need Someone to Talk to? 

If you could benefit from talking to someone, support is available year-round for all faculty and staff. Personal counseling is confidential, short-term, and always available at no charge. University faculty, staff, retirees and their adult family members are eligible.

You can also access online mental health screenings, as well as more information about health plan benefits, and upcoming support groups and workshops on the UHR website.

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