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Central Michigan Life – Psychology student offers free study for help with symptoms of anxiety, depression

During the beginning of the pandemic, many mental health clinics scrambled to find solutions to a lack of in-person appointments. 

Counseling centers, like at Central Michigan University, had difficulty getting students the tools they needed to cope with mental illness due to COVID-related closures.

Melanie Midkiff, doctoral candidate in clinical psychology, is conducting research on ways to virtually bring mental health tools to adults in need.

Through taking an online survey, participants can access guided intervention methods aimed at reducing anxiety and depression symptoms. After completing the survey, participants are assigned to one of three groups.

Participants will have access to all of the intervention materials until Dec. 2022.

The self-guided service, using videos and a workbook, offers methods on how to cope with mental health issues. The methods used in the intervention are adapted from the Unified Protocol, a therapy developed by David Barlow.

“One of the first things (is) to really rethink the idea that their emotions are good and bad. To not introduce judgment,” Midkiff said. “(Individuals) are not beholden to reacting to all of their emotions just because they come up.”

One of the skills taught and used in the intervention is mindfulness, or being more aware of your emotions. Midkiff said mindfulness has been incorporated into a few therapies and presents as a useful tool in her research.

“Once we are observers of our emotions, then we can do something with them,” she said.

Cognitive and behavioral therapy elements are also used in the intervention, according to the Unified Protocol Institute.

Prior to the pandemic, Midkiff intended for an intervention to be done in person. However, COVID-19 required change. 

Around this time, Midkiff said there was concern in the mental health community about how effective online treatment could be. But research has shown that virtual interventions can be just as effective.

Michelle Bigard, associate director of the Counseling Center, said these types of interventions are becoming a larger part of mental health care.

“There are lots of people trying to come up with services that are virtual and online for people that have 24/7 accessibility,” she said.

Although Bigard said there is a loss of some connection when virtual tools are used, there is an expansion of the availability of care.

“It makes our services so much more accessible to people,” she said.

Midkiff agrees with this sentiment. While she said that her research isn’t for those with complex mental health issues, she does think resources like her study can break down barriers to mental health access.

After a presentation researching disparities in access to mental health, Midkiff saw how this research could be a part of the solution.

“It bothered me, that sounds very simple, but it was yet another reminder of the difficulties that people have accessing evidence-based care,” Midkiff said. “I think (the interventions) is at least something for them to use, even if it’s in the meantime while they try and figure out how they can get more intensive treatment.”