We all know of one person who struggles with mental health; that person can even be ourselves. Society has always talked about the benefits and methods of maintaining physical health, and now is the time to incorporate those same conversations in regards to mental health. University of Connecticut’s podcast, Holistic Huskies, does just that.
The podcast was created by Serena Verma and Roger Watrous who graduated from UConn in 2021 and Victoria DeTrolio who graduated in 2020 through the UConn Innovate Wellness Challenge.
“They wanted to bring light to real mental health stories of students and faculty at UConn,” says lead intern Areej Sayeed.
While the conversation surrounding mental health has definitely progressed over time, there is still a stigma surrounding it. Holistic Huskies works to break this stigma through honest, raw conversations.
“People do not want to talk about mental health because it can be sensitive and ‘fake,’ which is why Holistic Huskies initiate these conversations to prevent this pre-conception,” says Sayeed. “We try to reach out to people with diverse perspectives to get their own personal story, whether it is an athlete, someone from the cultural centers, or nursing advisors.”
The Holistic Huskies team specifically chose a podcast as their preferred platform to create an easily accessible resource for all students.
“We have episodes which each have a different theme, so there is also personalized content for those who want to learn about a specific mental health topic and how to handle it. There is also a direct connection with the audience because these are the common people’s unfiltered stories.”Areej Sayeed, lean intern
While Holistic Huskies does provide mental health resources, it is not meant to be used as professional therapy. Listeners are able to “learn practical tips to cope with symptoms of anxiety and overcome stress, overall improving their well-being,” says Sayeed. Most importantly, they will realize they are not alone.
“Mental health healing is a process, not a destination,” says Sayeed. “It is important to emphasize this, which is why the awareness stories comfort people and let them know that they are not alone.”
What makes Holistic Huskies so special is that stories from our own community are shared. Rather than listening to a stranger, which can be beneficial nonetheless, listeners are able to hear personal stories from their friends, peers and colleagues.
College can especially be an overwhelming time. Individuals are expected to acclimate to an entirely new environment, make friends, find themselves, succeed in academics and engage in extracurriculars, all with the pressure of finding a career at the end of it.
“For students, assignments and exams can put a lot of pressure on them to do well, which leads to their mental health being affected,” says Sayeed. “For faculty, grading and dealing with students can affect their home life and their careers.”
Holistic Huskies helps with these transitions and struggles by highlighting resources that are available through Student Health and Wellness, if an individual feels they need professional help.
“It is important to shed light on mental health in college because they need to knjow that there are consultations, individual therapy, case management and other resources available for them to use.”Areej Sayeed, lead intern
Student Health and Wellness also provides many free events for the UConn community, some of which Holistic Huskies participates in.
“One event we participate in is Fresh Check Week, which is the annual suicide prevention and mental health awarenss event on Fairfield Way,” says Sayeed. “SHaW actively educates students and faculty about mental health topics, including sensitive topics such as suicide prevention.”
Starting Holistic Huskies during the beginning of the pandemic, the team had to overcome struggles that accompanied a virtual format. After conducting several virtual interviews, Verma and her colleagues found the interpersonal connection that comes along with talking about mental health lost.
“When talking about mental health in general, you really feel closer to the person and understand their story,” says Sayeed. “When talking in person, that connection grows through their storytelling.”
They were able to combat this connection lost through Zoom by creating informal and longer interviews. Rather than a strict interview style, individuals were able to feel like they were having a conversation with a friend and, thus, truly open up an important discussion.
As a lead intern, Areej Sayeed is highly involved with Holistic Huskies and has taken many of the skills she has learned to her personal life, including helping others close to her cope with mental health struggles.
“Actively listening has shaped and trained me to deal with these situations, which I will use for the rest of my life,” she says. “Hearing the different challenges people face educates me and allows me to empathize with them.”
Her and her colleagues are bonded through their education and passion regarding mental health.
“It is amazing that others, including my teammates Morgan and Jake who are also interns on the podcast, are as concerned with the mental health stigma,” she says. “It brings us together.”
As UConn’s community is expanding, Holistic Huskies hope to expand with it and include a plethora of diverse perspectives on campus.
“Our plan for the future is to ultimately interview as many people as we can to gain more interest and educate about the mental health crisis on campus,” says Sayeed. “We want to fight the stigma and have important conversations through the episodes we produce.”
The team also has plans to hire more interns in the future.
If you would like to listen to Holistic Huskies, check them out on Spotify.