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Furry Therapists, Yoga and Self-care: HSE Joins in Celebrating World Mental Health Day

Furry Therapists, Yoga and Self-care: HSE Joins in Celebrating World Mental Health Day

© HSE University

On October 10, HSE University celebrated World Mental Health Day. The HSE News Service learned about how dogs treat people, how to avoid stress and where to get psychological counselling at HSE University.

On World Mental Health Day, a real centre for psychological help took shape at the HSE building on Pokrovsky Boulevard, where the university worked to draw the attention of students and staff members to mental health issues by holding consultations, workshops on stress management and art therapy, and by inviting therapy dogs.

Since 1992, Mental Health Day has been celebrated worldwide on October 10. This initiative is the purview of the World Federation for Mental Health with support from the World Health Organization. The organization calls on people worldwide to understand the importance of maintaining and strengthening mental health. Every year Mental Health Day is dedicated to a specific issue: in 2019, it was mental health promotion and suicide prevention.

HSE students and staff were able to receive advice and learn more about stress at the atrium from both specialists invited to speak and staff members from the HSE Psychological Counselling Centre. According to Elena Anashkina, a psychologist at the centre, a number of students came to her with different questions. ‘Unfortunately, it is impossible to avoid stress. But you can handle it,’ she explains.

It’s crucial to remember that stress is a temporary condition. Life can change – today you may feel bad, but tomorrow your life will get better

People who are unable to cope with a problem on their own should get help from specialists. At HSE University, such help can be obtained anonymously. You just need to visit the website of the HSE Centre for Psychological Counselling and choose a communication channel: email, an online consultation with a psychologist, a face-to-face appointment or a call to a 24/7 hotline that was launched on Mental Health Day.

Ainur Kuliyeva, a master's student at HSE
© HSE University

The hotline is an important step, says Ainur Kuliyeva, a master's student at HSE. ‘It's a pity that there was no such service six years ago when I was enrolled in the bachelor's programme,’ she said. ‘I remember how other students from my programme dropped out, unable to cope with depression and stress, even in the fourth year of studies. If we would have had the opportunity to publicly discuss mental health it could have helped my classmates to graduate.’

On that day, Ainur decided to try art therapy along with many other students. Experts believe that colouring small drawings and details serves as a distraction from everyday worries and helps people return to their childhood.

Students of the HSE Art and Design School also joined the global campaign and created a poster series on the admissibility and acceptance of different feelings. The posters, which were displayed in the atrium, bore images and simple slogans in a naive style that portrayed human fragility and the unconditional value of emotional experience. Emotions were rendered as a necessary compass for finding one's 'I'. Despite the fact that they sometimes bring suffering, the black and white world that would result without them is far from ideal. If you find yourself in a situation you are unable to cope with, be sure to talk with your loved ones and ask for help. Doing this is a bold step worthy of respect - this is the idea the poster authors wanted to convey to their audience.

However, it was dog therapy – a psychotherapy method for improving mental health by means of interacting with a dog – that proved especially popular among students and staff.

Psychologist Yulia Florova has involved furry doctors in her work for more than nine years. She says that dogs have proven themselves in therapy and can be used with both children and adults. She notes that communication with a good dog reduces levels of anxiety and aggression and helps prepare people for a conversation with a psychologist. ‘If I decided to conduct training without a dog, students would probably refuse to take part in it, saying they had no time. On the other hand, a dog immediately disposes people for a talk with psychologist, and they get ready to open up,’ explains Yulia. At the same time, the animals themselves do not suffer from excessive communication with people: their working day is strictly regulated and overworking them is not allowed.

Because people’s physical condition has an effect on their mental health, a yoga class was held in the dance hall of the Cultural Centre. Instructor Maria Filimonova told students about breathing practices that help to cope with emotions in everyday life. ‘In addition, yoga features different asanas (positions) that affect us in a certain way. Some of them set us in high spirits and bring us joy, while others strengthen our will power. By practicing certain movements and breathing techniques, a person can regulate his or her mental wellbeing,’ says Maria.

Workshops were also dedicated to other topics. Students learned about self-care tips, how stress affects brain health and functions, and what to do if someone close to them has suicidal thoughts.