Inaugural Mental Health & Wellbeing Summit will focus on self-care for students

MADISON – A first-of-its kind Mental Health & Wellbeing Summit at UW-Madison will offer a series of workshops and activities so that students can take a break and care for their mental and physical health.

The two-day event on March 11-12 will be followed by an all-campus “Week of Care” (#TakeCareUW), a grassroots campaign to promote self-care and community wellbeing among UW students, faculty and staff.

“This past year has been really challenging for our students, and it’s been really challenging for our faculty and staff,” says Dean of Students Christina Olstad. “This summit is a way to engage our students and to promote awareness of the many resources we have to help them. That’s why I’m so excited about it.”

The summit will begin with tips and insights on managing one’s mental health from Joy Harden Bradford, Ph.D., a psychologist and host of the popular mental health podcast Therapy for Black Girls. Bradford will speak at 6 p.m. CST on Thursday, March 11.

The next day, students can join live events and access on-demand offerings that fit their needs, whether it’s dropping in on a live yoga class, learning the ins and outs of better sleep, or picking up new skills to manage procrastination and stress.

The summit is presented by UW-Madison Student Affairs and will feature experts and programming from University Health Services (UHS), University Recreation & Wellbeing, and the Center for Healthy Minds.

“The Mental Health and Wellbeing Summit is one step we are taking as an institution to address mental health needs on campus,” says Sarah Nolan, director of mental health services at UHS. “Our students are dealing with many issues that negatively impact their wellbeing, including ongoing mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety, experiences of racism, discrimination, and other traumatic incidents, navigating the ongoing global pandemic, and stress related to academics and relationships.”

The aim of the summit is to offer moments of care and wellbeing to students, and highlight some of the many options on campus for students to support their mental health, Nolan says.

“In particular, we are thrilled to have Dr. Joy Harden Bradford joining us, as she has built her career on destigmatizing mental health treatment in all communities but particularly among Black women,” Nolan says.   

While the summit’s primary audience is students, other members of the campus community may find the information beneficial, Olstad says. The “Week of Care” that follows the summit is an invitation to the entire campus to focus on mental health and wellbeing.

Olstad says the idea for the summit came from senior Eli Tsarovsky, who serves on the Dean of Students Advisory Committee.

“This really was the vision of a student,” says Olstad, who put together a campus coordinating group to plan the summit and allocated funds to support it. “It’s an example of a student sharing a need and idea, then working with us to see the vision through.”

 Tsarovsky grew up in Madison and is pursuing a degree in biochemistry, with certificates in public policy, global health and Biocore. He has served on the Dean of Students Advisory Committee since fall 2019 and is the current chair of Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment (PAVE), a student organization dedicated to preventing sexual assault, dating violence and stalking.

Tsarovsky says he began focusing more intentionally on his own self-care last year and felt other students also could benefit from such a focus. Among the takeaways he hopes students get from the summit: You don’t have to spend money or buy things to practice self-care, and whatever self-care practice you do should be something that brings you joy.

Tsarovsky’s go-to practices include meditating, working out, watching videos of great white sharks, and baking, an activity he often does with his identical twin brother, Noah, also a UW-Madison senior. The two have been known to produce an amazing German chocolate cake while listening to Bad Bunny.

“You should do stuff that’s fun,” Tsarovsky says. “That’s the biggest thing about self-care – it brings you back to yourself. You remember who you are through it.”