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Stress can mount in tough times, and UC can help

For Craig Mielcarski, the trend is hard to miss: more and more, employees coming to UC Berkeley’s CARE Services are having trouble coping with mounting stress.

“The ability to manage stress is more of a challenge because of the ongoing impact of the overall economy, from the country to the state to the University,” said Mielcarski, director of CARE Services, a campus faculty and staff assistance program.

Stress and depression have consistently been the top issues for which UC employees seek counseling. In mental health terms, it’s the equivalent of the common cold, with thousands of employees each year seeking treatment. Recently, that figure has been growing.

The number of UC employees seeking treatment for depression grew by 6 percent from 2009 to 2010, according to United Behavioral Health, the University’s primary provider for mental health services. And Employee Assistance Programs at campuses are reporting increases either in volume or severity of symptoms, or both.

“We’re seeing a much higher level of people being stretched as far as being able to cope,” Mielcarski said. “It’s not just people who lose a job; it’s people whose job is being changed. The ways things are being done are being realigned, and that’s stressful.”

It’s no surprise that workplace stress is rising. UC’s financial future has become less certain amid dwindling state support. The University is grappling with a $650 million state budget cut this fiscal year alone and is resorting to a series of program reductions, layoffs, tuition increases and other measures to close the gap.

That kind of seismic change can be overwhelming. Employees usually turn to familiar methods of coping with stress, but when even those trusted tools fail, they can be left feeling a loss of control. Stress and tension mount.

Stress manifests itself in multiple ways at home and at work: trouble sleeping, a change in eating habits such as overeating or eating too little, problems concentrating, lack of motivation or a shift in energy level. Behavior may change, too. A jovial person may become quieter, or someone who is normally quiet may start making sarcastic comments.

So what do you do if you recognize these symptoms? Seek support from your campus Employment Assistance Program (EAP), a doctor or even family and friends. A support network is crucial to navigating tough times.

For UCOP employees, start with UCSF’s Faculty and Staff Assistance Program, which provides services to the Office of the President, including confidential individual counseling and referrals as well as organizational counseling for managers and supervisors. The office can be reached at 415-476-8279 to arrange for appointments any day of the week at UCOP’s Kaiser Building location.

United Behavioral Health Services will refer you for counseling services to a local provider. The first three appointments with a network provider are free of charge. Contact UBH at 866-808-6205 or visit their website for more information.

“Recognize you need to do something different,” Mielcarski said. “Start small and simple. Don’t try to do 10 things differently. Just try to do one.”

Go to the UC Newsroom for Katherine Tam’s full report.

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