Spotlight on Mental Health & Wellness

Medicine and healthcare are challenging professions, and the rigorous education and advanced research programs that are central to our mission require much of those engaged in them. 

For both the current and future healthcare workforce, a focus on mental health and well-being is essential. 

This month, we spotlight efforts to put mental health and wellness front and center in our mission areas, and we share resources available to help you navigate personal and professional challenges.

Expanding Support & Resources

COVID-19 focused attention on the vital necessity of attending to our well-being, and drew increased demand for services and support.

Our Department of Psychiatry scaled up rapidly to better serve the needs of our campus community and those we serve.

That growth included added programming in Student and Resident Mental Health and the creation of a Faculty and Staff Mental Health Clinic

"We stepped up to meet growing needs among our students, faculty and staff as the pandemic wore on. That demand has not slowed.”
Neill Epperson, MD


“We stepped up to meet growing needs among our students, faculty and staff as the pandemic wore on. That demand has not slowed,” said department chair Neill Epperson, MD. "Our goal in the Department of Psychiatry is to address the increase in mental illness among faculty and staff in addition to students and residents that has occurred during and post pandemic. We applaud our campus’ focus on wellness in general, but also thank our leaders for supporting our work to provide psychiatric and psychological services.”

In partnership with Student Affairs and Human Resources, we launched platforms to bring 24/7 care to our campus community. 

MySSP is one of them. By chat, text or call, free counseling is available to students and residents anytime, anywhere.

“At CU Anschutz, we are committed to meeting students where they are with real-time support and a broad array of in-person and online resources,” said Jan Gascoigne, PhD, MCHES. “These resources are intended to help our students navigate academic and life challenges as they pursue their dreams.”

"These resources are intended to help our students navigate academic and life challenges as they pursue their dreams.”
Jan Gascoigne, PhD, MCHES

With a tool called You@CUAnschutz, all members of our campus community can find personalized content and tips to balance life and work. And at FindHelpNow, soon to be renamed HelpCompass, students and employees can quickly connect to help in times of need.

You can find details about these and other resources on the campus mental health resources webpage. Students can also find a full listing of resources, including wellness and academic support, on the student resources webpage.

Addressing Burnout, Building Resiliency

Burnout is not a new concept, though the COVID-19 pandemic intensified pressures on a healthcare workforce already stretched thin. 

Anxiety, exhaustion, PTSD, and emotional or even physical stress are some of the complex ways burnout can show up. 

By the very nature of their work, those in medicine and other helping professions are particularly vulnerable. Recent survey findings show high rates of burnout among nearly every type of healthcare worker, including physicians, nurses, clinical staff and non-clinical workers alike. 

Melissa, a clinical social worker in an inpatient psychiatry unit, is one of them. She began to feel unmotivated, ineffective and as if her work wasn’t making an impact. 

“Burnout is hard to articulate,” she said. “People who work in healthcare are tired. If we want to call that burnout, we want to call it exhausted or whatever that may be, they need to be taken care of.” 

For every person experiencing symptoms of burnout, there are many more at risk. At CU Anschutz, we are leading efforts to care for current and future professionals, through skill-building, interactive training, and programs to boost resiliency.


Through the Colorado Resiliency Arts Lab, or CORAL, Marc Moss, MD, and his team are bringing creative arts therapy to healthcare workers like Melissa, in partnership with the Ponzio Creative Arts Therapy Program at Children’s Hospital Colorado and the Denver nonprofit Lighthouse Writers Workshop. 

The goal is to determine whether creative arts programs can reduce symptoms of psychological distress, and help people enhance connection to peers and the purpose of their work. 

By pairing group therapy with cohorts focused on writing, visual arts, music and dance, CORAL is giving participants the skills to work through the tragedy and trauma inherent in their day to day. 

The sixth and final cohort recently finished the 12-week program. Data available thus far show that 27% of participants reported a drop in anxiety and 35% say depression has decreased. 

Moss hopes CORAL will have applications for other fields. 

"We can serve as a model for the rest of society to destigmatize mental health issues.”
Marc Moss, MD
“If we as healthcare professionals can show that we can tackle this occupational mental health issue, then we can serve as a model for the rest of society to destigmatize mental health issues in general,” he said.

For Melissa, dance and movement therapy has provided valuable skills to help her work through the stresses of her occupation. She has renewed motivation to conduct her morning rounds and have sometimes difficult conversations with her patients. 

“This has been a need for a long time,” she said. “I now have an outlet that can help.”

Mental Health Education for Nurses

In our College of Nursing, all undergraduate and graduate students take part in mental health educational modules called Tools of Engagement: Mental Health, Communication and Longevity in Nursing. The educational modules are designed with the purpose of training tomorrow’s frontline providers to understand the principles of mental health wellness, coping with adversities and how to work in clinical settings with patients who have mental health disorders.

“Mental health is an urgent concern right now for patients, healthcare providers and students,” said Paul Cook, PhD. “CU Nursing’s innovative Tools of Engagement program is a faculty-developed initiative to get in front of this problem, and to help our students feel less overwhelmed by the problems they might encounter.”

In a high-stress profession like nursing, such skills help providers find resources for themselves as well as their patients.

One participant noted that the student support groups are a particularly valuable component of the program: “Sharing experiences in group helped me name my stressors and the emotions that accompany them, which helped me process even after our group experience was over."

Led by psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner students with faculty supervision, the support groups offer hands-on educational benefit for participants and facilitators alike.

Cultivating Future Mental Health Champions

In addition to supporting providers and trainees, we are creating pathways for the future healthcare professionals who will carry this work forward.


The Psychiatry Undergraduate Research Program and Learning Experience, or PURPLE, introduces undergraduates to the possibilities of mental health careers. Students from diverse backgrounds are paired with faculty mentors for 12 weeks of supervised research, clinical shadowing and instruction.

Of the 46 students who completed PURPLE in the last five years, 58% have stayed in mental health fields and 93% reported the program was helpful for their career.

For Kristen Torres, PURPLE solidified her career plans. 

“It was so eye-opening to work with patients and their families,” she said, “and it reaffirmed my decision to pursue a career in pediatric psychology.” 

Hummingbird Initiative

This month, we launched the Hummingbird Initiative in partnership with the Colorado Behavioral Health Association. Like PURPLE, the pathway program is focused on inspiring young people from backgrounds underrepresented in medicine to consider careers in the field, while also giving them tools to address their own mental health needs.

"We’re not only providing a better chance for a more diverse future, we’re also providing mental health services to those less likely to have access.”
Regina Richards, PhD, MSW
“In Colorado and across the country, there’s a significant disparity and lack of representation in this field,” said Regina Richards, PhD, MSW. “We’re not only providing a better chance for a more diverse future, we’re also providing mental health services to those less likely to have access.” 

Lilia Cervantes, MD, who will help lead the initiative, notes that it offers one way to eliminate obstacles that prevent youth from careers in healthcare. Starting this fall, the program will provide education, mental health support and workforce development training at six area high schools.

Mental Health Front & Center

These efforts are just one snapshot of work underway campuswide. By keeping mental health and wellness front and center, we foster a strong and thriving campus community and a healthcare workforce equipped to deliver on our ambitious mission.

Next month, we will highlight efforts at CU Anschutz that are bringing high-quality mental healthcare to the communities we serve.


Take Care,

Don Elliman

Don Elliman




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