The Clinical Corner: How cancer affects mental wellbeing in patients

Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be the single most terrifying and life-changing moment in many patients’ lives. Coping with this news in a healthy way is an important part of the treatment and recovery process, one that may actually affect how disease recovery and remission progresses.

It may come as no surprise that a life-threatening disease diagnosis tends to adversely affect the mental states of many patients, but some research also suggests that depression in patients may lead to worse symptoms of the physical disease.

The two way street between mental and physical health

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that “it is common to feel sad or discouraged” after a serious diagnosis or during pain management. However, distinguishing those feelings from more acute mental health concerns is important for both mental and physical health.

When depression symptomatology lasts longer than a few weeks it can become a serious hindrance to cancer care, treatment, and decreases a patient’s overall quality of life. In fact, the NIMH found that co-occurrence of mental and physical health issues is common.

David K. Wellisch, UCLA professor of psychiatry and behavioral science and doctor of psychology at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, says that 66 percent of cancer patients have an adjustment disorder. “It’s very common,” says Wellisch. “The issue becomes, is it transient, or does it persist and become clinical depression?”

Patients with chronic physical illnesses are more likely than the general population to develop depression, and the same is true of the opposite. According to the NIMH, people with depression are more likely to receive a serious physical health diagnosis and experience more severe symptoms.

In some cases, these relationships even have their own set of terminology. Cancer-related post-traumatic stress (PTS) has been described as presenting similarly to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The National Cancer Institute found that as many as 25 percent of cancer survivors experience symptoms of depression, 42 percent experience anxiety, and survivors are 50 percent more likely to commit suicide than the general population.

A study published by Australian psychiatrists Jane Turner and Brian Kelly in the Western Journal of Medicine called Emotional dimensions of chronic diseases, highlights the ways in which depression may affect a patient’s chances of disease recovery.

“Even mild depression may reduce a person’s motivation to gain access to medical care and to follow treatment plans,” wrote Turner and Kelly. Failing to follow treatment plans could lead to an exacerbation of the medical condition, which in turn feeds the mental disturbance, creating a cycle. The study also notes that diagnosing depression in physically ill patients is difficult, as common symptoms like sleep disruption or mood swings may be the result of the medical condition.

Encouragement from family members may not be enough to result in a patient seeking psychological help, so hospitals and oncology professionals must be equipped to provide patients with the resources they need. Additionally, training these doctors to be aware of depressive symptomatology will increase the likelihood that a mental condition is treated before it becomes a bigger concern.

How machines may be able to help 

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become something of a buzzword in the medical field, with promises of streamlined healthcare IT, better disease diagnosis rates, and even tailored treatment plans on a patient by patient basis. An AI system developed at the University of Surrey, in partnership with the University of California, San Francisco, may even be able to predict mental health symptoms in patients.

A study published in the PLOS One Journal reported that researchers were able to create a machine learning based program to accurately predict the symptoms of depression, anxiety and sleep disturbance in cancer patients. This program, which sorts symptoms by likely severity, could lead to an increase in patient quality of life and even help allocate mental health resources correctly.

Payam Barnaghi, a professor of machine intelligence at the University of Surrey, remarked on how these programs could positively affect cancer patients.

“They can help clinicians identify high-risk patients, help and support their symptom experience and preemptively plan a way to manage those symptoms and improve quality of life,” Barnaghi said.

Where mental health support is needed most 

Studies proving these connections between mental health and disease mortality, suicide, and continuing mental health concerns after treatment are plenty. Just as cancer treatment considers to monitor for reappearances of tumors after remission, mental health resources should be accessible long after treatment is over. 

The University of Surrey’s intellectual investment into alleviating mental health concerns for cancer patients could signify an important shift in the way the oncology field prioritizes a patient’s mental wellbeing.

The need for comprehensive mental healthcare is large, considering the implications of failure to treat these patients. A study conducted at Tilburg University in the Netherlands found an increased mortality rate of 19 percent among cancer patients with depression.

Disease severity may be a factor in these cases of depression and suicide, where conditions with shorter life expectencies and worse symptoms could cause more mental health issues. Cancer is a notoriously unpleasant disease, and variations like mesothelioma, which moves quickly and aggressively, are especially bleak diagnoses to receive. The Australian Psychological Society studied the connection between mesothelioma and depression, finding that lung cancers have “been associated with greater morbidity and higher levels of psychological distress than any other form.”

Age is also an important factor in allocating mental health resources. A Canadian study in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment found that “depression is strongly associated with mortality in younger patients with early stage breast cancer.” For continuing care, factors beyond disease severity or longevity should be considered, as clearly younger patients are more at risk. Still another factor to pay attention to is location. An American Cancer Society study reported in cancer survivors, “clinically significant psychological distress” was 5 percent more likely in rural than urban survivors.

Making resources a part of holistic cancer treatment would ensure that cancer survivors don’t feel alone, and even have the possibility to reduce mortality and suicide among those affected. For example, the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) has adopted what they refer to as a collaborative care model.

“Collaborative care is patient focused,” said Tammy Wetzman, an oncology social worker at SCCA, in an interview with Social Work Today. “It provides centralized psychosocial care for our patients. The care manager, generally a clinical social worker, who is a key member of the medical team, has regular interaction and collaboration with psychiatry and psychology colleagues and other supportive care providers to create a multidisciplinary and cohesive team that can deliver comprehensive and holistic care.”

Dr. Anne Coscarelli, director of the Simms/Mann UCLA Center for Integrative Oncology, has noticed a decided shift in the mental health care for cancer patients from the beginning of her career to present day, she said in a UCLA Health interview.

“The focus was on how to get the cancer under control,” Dr. Coscarelli said. “Now we’re paying attention to the whole person with cancer. There is a greater awareness that cancer affects more than just the body.”



Emily Walsh is the Director of Community Outreach at, which has been working for 22 years to connect patients and their families with authentic and helpful information and resources. Walsh stays up to date on the latest cancer research and asbestos news to advocate for a full fledged asbestos ban and promote healthy information for cancer patients.

Feb 2015 Ethics Center Raho

The Roots of Eudaimonia: An Interview with Dr. Joseph Raho

Eudaimonia AwardsUCLA is holding their third annual Eudaimonia awards on April 29th, 2019, and in anticipation for the event, I sat down with ethicist Dr. Joseph Raho to discuss the roots of eudaimonia in ancient Greek philosophy. After majoring in philosophy in undergrad, Dr. Raho wished to use the analytic skills he learned during his studies in a very practical way. He found that opportunity in bioethics, landing a job after graduation with The President’s Council on Bioethics (a federal bioethical commission in DC). That experience led him to pursue his PhD in moral philosophy with a concentration on end-of-life ethics at the Universita’ di Pisa, Italy. This is how Dr. Raho ended up living in Italy for five years, developing a passion for Italian art and culture, espresso, and reminiscing about the passeggiata. He returned to the States to do his post-doctoral fellowship in clinical ethics at the UCLA Health Ethics Center in 2014. He was hired as clinical ethicist for UCLA Health in the spring of 2016. In this role, he aims to facilitate the principled resolution of ethical conflicts and challenges that healthcare professionals, patients, and their families face in the hospital setting.

Feb 2015 Ethics Center Raho

Photo by Julia Saltzman

Q: If you had to give a quick elevator pitch to describe Eudaimonia to someone who did not know what it was, what would it sound like?

A: I would have to start with what it means in Ancient Greek: Eu (good) daimon (divinity or spirit). It’s someone who has a good spirit, or someone who has been able to realize their inner spirit. In English, it’s something akin to happiness, enjoyment, or pleasure. The best translation is not happiness, however, but a state of flourishing or excellence. Aristotle connected eudaimonia with virtuous behavior—virtue in accordance with reason and contemplation. Virtue is not about singular, isolated activities and behaviors, but habitual ones. You become virtuous by molding yourself through your actions over time. This raises important questions: What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to flourish specifically as a human being? What does it mean to live well? What kind of person do I desire to become? What kind of activities, projects, or hobbies should I seek out because they will be conducive to my overall flourishing? At a very rudimentary level, it will be hard to flourish if you don’t have the basic necessities in life. I would also add that it’s hard to flourish alone—activities, projects, and hobbies are important, but frequently leave one only partially fulfilled, so relationships are a big part of what it means to flourish. To live well involves doing good not only for yourself, but also for others. We must strive to go beyond ourselves, overcoming our limitations. Finally, living a good life is, in a major way, connected with the various roles one has been given or assumed in life (for example, that of a parent, healthcare professional, or teacher). What does it mean to truly flourish in those roles?

Q: Where did you first hear about Eudaimonia? What do you remember about that moment/time?

A: It was my freshman year of college while studying ancient philosophy. I remember that when the professor talked about it, the concept resonated with me. I think each of us tries to live a meaningful existence. Human beings strive to create meaning. It doesn’t necessarily matter what the answer is, it’s about the dialogue—and that really drew my interest.

Q: How do you incorporate Eudaimonia into your life?

A: Mindfulness and reflection about your life and the lives of others.

Q: Can you explain the link between Eudaimonia and Philosophy?

A: The word philosophy comes to us from Greek, meaning “love of wisdom.” Yet, you don’t have to be an academic philosopher to be a reflective thinker. Human beings are naturally curious and reflective individuals. We all yearn for understanding and meaning. Philosophy is a branch of knowledge that tries to uncover fundamental truths about ourselves and our world in a systematic way. Eudaimonia is a state of human flourishing or excellence. Philosophical reflection would seek to better understand fundamental truths about what it means to flourish or be excellent human beings and why.

Q: What’s one bit of advice you would give to someone looking for meaning and purpose in their lives?

A: I would ask the person: “Where do you find joy in life and why is that aspect of your life filled with joy?” Trying to find meaning and purpose in life is admittedly very subjective—it will depend on what a person values. Striving for meaning and purpose should be understood as a journey instead of as a destination. It’s not necessarily about achieving particular things or goals (even if those things are important). Ultimately, I think the person should ask herself “What kind of person do I want to become?” and then strive toward that ideal.

Q: What can one do daily, monthly, yearly, to live with Eudaimonic principles?

A: That is a very difficult question! One should think about what it means to flourish in a holistic sense and set that as a goal for oneself. Then, he or she should strive to live in accordance with that goal one step at a time, recognizing that it may need to be modified along the way.

Q: What gives you purpose in life?

A: Relationships. Being a good partner, a good friend, a good family member, a good colleague. We should also try to help people if we are in a position to do so. Finally, we should be mindful about our actions and their impacts on others. As an ethicist, I aim to identify, analyze, and help people navigate difficult value-laden decisions. My goal is to equip them with the tools needed to arrive at their own decisions, in a way that is consistent with their deeply-held values and beliefs. I like to think that I am using my training in a creative way to assist individuals who may be struggling with complex medical decisions.

Q: What would you like UCLA to know about the Eudaimonia Awards?

A: The purpose of the awards is to recognize outstanding persons whose actions embody our collective ideals of a life well lived. The winners not only excel as individuals, but also use their talents for the broader good of the community and society at large by making an impact on the lives of others. By recognizing and celebrating such excellence, the hope is to get people on campus to think: “That is the type of person I want to become.”



Aubrey Freitas is an undergraduate student at UCLA double majoring in English Literature and Psychology with a minor in Italian. She is a blogger for the Semel Healthy Campus Initiative Center at UCLA in the Mind Well section, which focuses on the importance of mindfulness and mental health. Aubrey is the founder of the organization Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting to people of the community in return for their donation of an article of clothing they create with the skill, to be given to local homeless shelters.


Resilience on the RISE

Resilience (noun)
re·​sil·​ience | \ ri-ˈzil-yən(t)s
​1)​ The capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress.
2) An ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.
– Merriam-Webster Dictionary
As people in and around the university, we all face the trials and tribulations of stress, anxiety, and difficult situations. We can learn to better cope with daily challenges through a practice of resilience that supports our well-being.

The ​Office of Campus and Student Resilience​ and ​Counseling and Psychological Services​ (CAPS) have created a “holistic wellness hub” on campus that provides a variety of programs, classes, trainings, and self-directed resources aimed at creating a greater sense of resilience on campus. This hub is called​ Resilience in the Student Experience​ (RISE) and is located on campus, downstairs at Lu Valle Commons room B-01. RISE serves as a physical extension of CAPS, and as part of its programming, RISE offers meditations, yoga, peer coaching, and other mind-body modalities.


When I say that RISE offers a vast amount of programs and meditations, it’s no understatement. So far in the lineup they have:
  • Yoga as healing – trauma-informed yoga for survivors of sexual assault
  • Weekly drop-in resilience sessions for all
  • Mindful Ambassadors​ meetings
  • Drop-in meditations for post doctoral students
  • Weekly drop-in mindful nutrition for all
  • GRIT coaching​ corner
  • Wazo ​wellness series
  • Mindfulness for women of color
  • Healing expressed with art (HEART) for trauma survivors
  • Weekly drop-in mindful self compassion break
  • Fitwell​ yoga classes.

The RISE schedule is bursting with programs and opportunities that can meet our diverse student body where they are. And there’s no sign of slowing down; Dr. Allyson Pimentel, associate director of UCLA Campus & Student Resilience, tells me, “it’s only going to get better.”


RISE has an upcoming 5 session training series, Training for Campus Peer Leaders, which is geared towards UCLA student leaders looking to learn more about resilience, how to support students in distress, and many other important topics. This workshop will be held every Wednesday from weeks 4-8, with each session lasting two hours. The sessions will be held in the basement level of Lu Valle Commons, room B-01. If interested in this particular workshop, you can learn more and sign up ​here.


Check out the RISE space itself or come participate in some of the upcoming meditation sessions and workshops! For more information email ​



Aubrey Freitas is an undergraduate student at UCLA double majoring in English Literature and Psychology with a minor in Italian. She is a blogger for the Semel Healthy Campus Initiative Center at UCLA in the Mind Well section, which focuses on the importance of mindfulness and mental health. Aubrey is the founder of the organization Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting to people of the community in return for their donation of an article of clothing they create with the skill, to be given to local homeless shelters.

Heart Health 2.png

Healthy Minds and Healthy Hearts: An Interview with Kimberly Uehisa

While heart health is often overlooked by younger generations, the effects it can have on living a healthy lifestyle are nonetheless important. Mental health can be severely impacted by stress, and so can heart health. Kimberly Uehisa, fourth year MIMG major and global health minor, is championing the importance of cardiovascular health and education in her new study with the UCLA Women’s Cardiovascular Center​. I sat down with her to find out more about ECHOS (Early Cardiovascular Health Outreach), herself, and the importance of heart health.

Heart Health 1

Kimberly has been a research fellow with the Women’s Cardiovascular Center for two years, studying prevention and effects of cardiovascular disease with her faculty mentor Dr. Tamara Horwich, Dr. Marcella Press, and Dr. Karol Watson. She became interested in heart health in high school after discovering she and her family had a history of high blood pressure and other heart-related medical issues. On top of her passion for helping others live heart healthy lifestyles, Kimberly is a research coordinator for the Department of Cardiac Surgery, and just started working in a bioengineering lab focusing on cardiovascular research. She was also recently selected for the Undergraduate Research Fellowship program for this particular research study.

To give a little bit more insight into who she is outside of her research, Kimberly strongly recommends owning a pet for their benefits in relieving stress, even though she doesn’t own any herself. Kimberly also likes to go hiking and explore the outdoors and is actually from Hawaii, where hula dancing was part of her school curriculum from elementary to high school. Also, while she is from Hawaii, no, she’s never surfed, and yes, she does get that question a lot. She’s an energetic firework here to spread the importance of early heart health with UCLA, and we are excited to learn more!

Heart Health 2.png

Q: What’s happening in the pilot study?
A:​ First, students will sign up on a link or QR code from a flier, and they will fill out a pre-survey. They will receive text messages for a 4 week period, 3 times a week, with suggestions of campus resources and heart health information. There will be weekly prize drawings to encourage active participation. At the end of the 4 week period, students who complete the post survey may receive a $10 gift card for their participation in the study. This text messaging system will hopefully alleviate stress and help student’s current and future well-being. The study is still waiting for IRB approval; once it is approved, we will notify UCLA’s student body.

Q: Why and when did you decide to study women’s cardiovascular health?
A: ​A history of high blood pressure in my family lead me become interested in cardiovascular health. I started my first research study in 2017 with Dr. Jennifer Phung-Woo. We recruited teens and young adults between the ages 13 and 25 and found out text messages were actually helpful, effective, and educational. The goal of the study was to reach out to young people about heart disease, connecting with them via text-messaging to educate them about the subject and know they aren’t the only ones that may be affected by it. Forming healthy habits early in life is really important.

Q: Why do you think heart health education is particularly relevant to college students?
A:​ As a student, I know from firsthand experience that college students experience high levels of stress, which affects our lifestyle choices. In this environment, education on heart health is particularly beneficial. The effects of stress on the body leave students at greater risk for developing cardiovascular disease.

Q: What are some cardiovascular health resources on campus?
A:​ A lot more will be shared in the text messages sent out to participants in the study, but off the top of my head: CAPS, Mindful Meditation, and Mindful Music. The text messages sent out in the study will give students quick links to the schedules so they can effectively and efficiently access the resources. The goal of the text messages is to cover all aspects of student life.

Q: If you could tell someone one tip to change or add to their lives to positively impact their heart health what would it be?
A:​ Just try not to be stressed (haha). On a more serious note: having a good support system and really strong relationships to be there for you is really helpful in the long run. Also, being aware of yourself and how you take care of your body.

Q: What do you think one of the biggest misconceptions is about heart health?
A:​ That it’s a man’s disease and not a woman’s disease. It happens to everyone, at all ages.

Q: What’s the main thing you hope students take from this study?
A:​ I hope for everyone to be aware of their stress and be engaged with their bodies as the heart is the heart of all health! Everything begins with being aware of yourself and aware of your surroundings.

February may be known for the more emotional aspects of the heart, but it’s also Heart Health Month. This makes it the perfect time to learn about living a heart healthy lifestyle and also just so happens to be when participants can begin signing up for the study. In just four weeks you can learn about resources on campus to help you engage in stress relief, be more educated about heart health, and possibly receive a $10 gift card. For further information or questions about the study, please contact Dr. Horwich at ​​.

Heart Health 3


Aubrey Freitas is an undergraduate student at UCLA double majoring in English Literature and Psychology with a minor in Italian. She is a blogger for the Semel Healthy Campus Initiative Center at UCLA in the Mind Well section, which focuses on the importance of mindfulness and mental health. Aubrey is the founder of the organization Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting to people of the community in return for their donation of an article of clothing they create with the skill, to be given to local homeless shelters.

Slime During Grind Time

On Friday, December 7th, members of the MindWell pod in the Healthy Campus Initiative came together to put on a de-stressing event for students before finals head into full swing. The event was filled with fun, relaxation, and slime– appropriately named slime time during grind time.

Slime 2

Yes, slime. That stretchy, goopy substance that many of us played with when we were little, and that Nickelodeon has made famous. Making and playing with slime has also been really big on Instagram for the past couple of years as it’s oddly satisfying to watch others play with slime.

Slime 4

The goal of the event was to bring a pop of fun into students’ days, bring their minds away from the stress of finals and papers, and allow them to relax and have fun making something they could use to destress with at home while they’re studying. All of the students who stopped by our tables took home beautiful and fun globs of slime that can act as stress balls, or recreate the act of play when students want to take a mental break from their studies.

Slime 12

About 100 Bruins stopped by the tables in front of Powell library in a span of three hours to make their own slime. The atmosphere at the tables was one of community, with many of the students talking about finals that they had just come from, papers they were heading to the library to write, or study groups they were going to.

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We asked the students to fill out a small evaluation sheet before they left the table with their cup of slime, many of whom gave sweet feedback in the comments section. Several remarked how fun the event was, others asked for us to do the event again or put on a similar one, and several others were just handwritten thank you’s. One of the comments was a combination of the ones described above stating, “Thank you for this event! It really helped me with de-stressing and not worrying about my finals. I hope you guys do this again!”

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It was an absolute delight for the MindWell pod to put on this event for students, and we hope there will be more to come. For those who weren’t able to stop by the table, or who just want to try making some slime, here are the instructions we followed:

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Prime Slime Anytime


Elmer’s glue,  contact lens solution, baking soda, and any food coloring, glitter, or beads that you want to add.


  1. Pour ¾ of a cup of Elmer’s glue into a bowl
  2. Add 1 ½ tablespoons of baking soda
  3. Add 3 tablespoons of contact lens solution and desired amount of food coloring or glitter, and mix until slime begins to form
  4. Begin to knead the slime in your hands until it begins to firm. If needed, add more contact lens solution to make it less sticky.
  5. Add whatever other beads, more glitter, or even color that you want into your slime and have fun!

Enjoy some more slime photos below:

Slime 16 Slime 15 Slime 14 Slime 10 Slime 9 Slime 8 Slime 7 Slime 1


Taking a STAND for Mental Health at UCLA


The Depression Grand Challenge​ has taken many strides towards reaching its goal of cutting the rate of depression in half by 2050. As of last year, UCLA was “believed to be the first university to conduct a ‘​campus-wide mental health screening program​’, where it invited students to “check in” and offer them treatment within the study’s 8 week​ Internet Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (iCBT)​ program if they showed signs of mild to moderate depression or anxiety. This multifaceted challenge encompasses many groups working towards the same goal through different approaches and focus areas. One of these groups is the ​Resilience Peer Network​ (RPN), a combination of UCLA undergraduate and graduate students that are trained to support their fellow peers as they work their way through the 8 week iCBT study. RPN just announced a new name for their resilience peer services, the STAND (screening and treatment for depression and anxiety) program. Once members have gone through the necessary training, they will officially become a STAND peer and are eligible to facilitate many different kinds of support groups, including one-on-one and group settings.

RPN teaches their Resilience Peers a number of tools to combat negative emotions and increase one’s ability to cope. The 8 week iCBT program has a different focus or tool to share with participants each week, such as developing an exercise routine, starting a mindfulness practice, hunting for positives, and shifting attention, to name a few. One of the wonderful things about the iCBT program is that it provides a holistic overview of mental health and offers a diverse group of tools which participants get to test out themselves each week to see what works best for them.

As a STAND Peer within the program, I have my favorite lessons and skills picked out, and I actively use them and share them with those around me. You don’t have to take my word for it though, you can try it for yourself:

Hunting for Positives:​​

We all have bad days, and, unfortunately, bad days will continue to happen to us in the future. We simply cannot control everything. Wouldn’t it be nice though if those bad days didn’t have to be all bad? The truth is that they probably aren’t, but we allow ourselves to get so caught up in our emotions and events of the bad day that it distracts us from appreciating the good parts of it that may just make the day seem not so bad after all.

Maybe you passed by some pretty flowers on your walk, or got to pet a cute dog, or you got a call from a loved one you haven’t heard from in a while. Those are all positives that deserve to be recognized and that could change the way you feel about a bad day. As you continue on throughout the rest of your day, I challenge you to hunt for positives and see how you feel when you turn in.

Practicing Mindfulness:​​

Numerous studies will tell you about the positive effects of practicing mindfulness, but these effects are more believable if you experience them yourself. Let’s try a short meditation right now to give you a bit of a break from your day. We’ll do a public places guided meditation focusing on body and sound that you can do wherever and whenever you have a spare three minutes. The ​transcript below​ is one of many mindfulness exercises available on the​ Mindfulness Awareness Research Center​ (MARC) website and is accessible to all UCLA students, faculty, and staff. Take your time to read through the meditation, and really focus on being present during this break.


“Begin this meditation by noticing the posture that you’re in.
You may be standing or sitting or lying down.
Notice your body exactly as it is.
And see if you can tune into any sensations that are present to you in your body in this moment. There might be heaviness or lightness, pressure, weight.
There might be vibration, pulsating, movement, warmth, coolness.
These sensations can be anywhere in your body.
And all you have to do is notice them.
Notice what’s happening with curiosity and interest.
Take a breath. As you breathe, relax. Not much to do except be fully present and aware.
Now let go of the body’s sensations, and turn your attention to the sounds inside or outside the room.
There may be all sorts of sounds happening.
Loud sounds, quiet sounds You can also notice the silence between the sounds.
But the sounds are coming and going.
Notice them coming and going.
One tendency of our mind is to want to think about the sounds.
To start to make up a story about the sound,or we have a reaction to it: I like it, I don’t like it. See if instead, you can simply listen to the sound.
Notice it with curiosity and interest.
The sounds are coming and going.
Now once again, notice your body standing, present or seated or lying down.
Notice any body sensations that are obvious to you.
Take another breath.
And when you’re ready, bring your attention back into the room.”


How do you feel now? Take a bit of time to check in with yourself.

The above two tools are just a couple of my favorites that I learned through my involvement in the Resilience Peer Network’s STAND program. There is so much the Resilience Peers and the program have to offer, whether you’re looking to become involved through facilitating support groups or receiving treatment through the study. Learn more about RPN’s STAND program training and application process​ here​, or take the check-in survey to track your mental health here​.



Aubrey Freitas is an undergraduate student at UCLA double majoring in English Literature and Psychology with a minor in Italian. She is a blogger for the Semel Healthy Campus Initiative Center at UCLA in the Mind Well section, which focuses on the importance of mindfulness and mental health. Aubrey is the founder of the organization Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting to people of the community in return for their donation of an article of clothing they create with the skill, to be given to local homeless shelters.


Meet Anusha Sadda, CAPS Student Advisory Board Member

Many people know about Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at UCLA, but most people don’t know there is also a board of students working alongside them to provide the best mental health resources possible. This group of students is called the CAPS Student Advisory Board (CSAB). The board is made up of students from different organizations and backgrounds, who have come together to voice the concerns of their respective communities and to inspire change. (Any student can apply to be a part of the board, so if you have an interest in mental health, think about making your voice heard by applying for next year’s board! Keep an eye out for an application announcement.)

About Anusha: Anusha is a graduating fourth year Psychobiology major and Public Health minor and a member of last year’s CSAB board. She’s a mental health advocate because mental health affects all of us even if we don’t all have a mental illness. After graduating, she hopes to work as an analyst at a healthcare company and eventually go to graduate school to become a psychiatrist or work in community health. She prefers TV shows over movies, and if she could watch only one for the rest of her life, it would either be Grey’s Anatomy, or This is Us. She isn’t a fan of either cats or dogs, and if she had to have a pet, she would prefer a goldfish. She adores Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies, and her life motto is “you can’t change the world, but you can change your world.”


Q: Tell me a little bit about the CAPS Student Advisory Board: how, why, and when was it created?

Anusha Sadda: Nicole Green, the director of CAPS, created CSAB in the 2016-2017 school year. She met with a lot of student groups and wanted a space for students to voice their opinions. She wanted to have a better idea of how to prioritize student needs, and she did that by hearing many different perspectives from some of UCLA’s students.


Q: Why did you want to join the CSAB last year?

AS: I was always involved with mental health groups on campus. I served as the campaign manager for All of Us, and I wanted to be involved with something that was more all encompassing. I wanted to learn more about CAPS, their staffing, finances, everything that played a role in making CAPS efficient and effective. It was a privilege making a difference for the students.


Q: What did the board focus on or accomplish last year?

AS: The biggest focus was the session limits at CAPS. There has been an increase in mental health service needs nationally, and we wanted to figure out what we would do with all of that demand.


Q: What specific things did you want the board to focus on? What concerns did you bring?

AS: I wanted to focus on educating students about what CAPS is, what resources there are, and using CAPS as an avenue to seek the right kind of treatment. Increasing awareness of mental health on campus was an important goal of mine last year. I wanted to create a collaborative effort, kind of like an umbrella, of all kinds of people focused on mental health that were coming from different campus groups, but that were coming together as partners to achieve a common goal.


Q: Why do you think it’s important for students to have this close interaction with CAPS?

AS: Not all students can advocate for themselves, and that leads to some people feeling like they aren’t represented. The CSAB board provides a way to bridge that gap, by having representatives speak for a community. The board is then able to hear their issues and address them. It’s also easier for students to talk to students, which helps create honesty and strengthens students’ relationship with CAPS.


Q: What do you think the impacts are of having a board run by students geared towards the benefit of students?

AS: I think it shows people that CAPS is really trying to be the best it can be and tend to student needs. Their efforts are going above and beyond. Dr. Green is a very busy woman, and she takes the time to be present at all of the CSAB meetings because she really cares to hear from students. We want people to say what they want to say to the board and have their issue addressed.


Q: What do you hope future members of the board accomplish with the partnership?

AS: I don’t have a long term goal for the board, because we never know what is going to be changing in the future. All I care about is that students, staff, and faculty feel like they have the best mental health resources possible­­­— for the UCLA community to be happy mentally, physically, and emotionally.


Aubrey Freitas is an undergraduate student at UCLA double majoring in English Literature and Psychology with a minor in Italian. She is a blogger for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative in the Mind Well section, which focuses on the importance of mindfulness and mental health. Aubrey is the founder of the organization Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting to people of the community in return for their donation of an article of clothing they create with the skill, to be given to local homeless shelters.


Yoga in the Community: Meet Carina Marcellas and Yoga for Flexible Futures!

The Healthy Campus Initiative funds a plethora of research and clubs on campus that are related to mindfulness and mental health. Yoga for Flexible Futures (YFF), a previous HCI Small Grants Recipient, is a club that teaches mindfulness, nutrition, and yoga to children at UCLA’s Community School in Koreatown. The club is composed of passionate bruins who advocate for teaching of mindfulness and fitness at a young age to help kids lead healthy lives in the future. I interviewed the current president of YFF, Carina Marcellas, to learn more about the club and the vision and passion behind their work. A club that rolls kids and yoga into one mat, what could be more exciting than that?

About Carina: Carina is a graduating fourth year double majoring in Italian and Anthropology. She loves yoga (unsurprisingly!), is teacher-certified in yoga sculpt, and is on the SET team at Corepower Yoga in Westwood. She’s also the special events intern at the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles (IAMLA) and is a member of the Alpha Delta Pi sorority. If she could only watch one movie for the rest of her life, it would be La La Land. Carina embraces her strong female identity—it’s even reflected in her choice of favorite actress, Emma Watson and her love of Hermione throughout all of the Harry Potter films. One of her life mottos is “be the energy you wish to attract,” which is a wonderful affirmation and reminder to be resilient and positive in all aspects of life. If you couldn’t tell from her list of accomplishments and personality traits, Carina is a shining star of YFF and an inspiring bruin.

Q: YFF has been an HCI Small Grants recipient in the past for the clubs connection to the MindWell Pod’s mission, how do you think YFF embodies what the Mind Well pod stands for?

Carina Marcellas: At the beginning of the quarter, we did a mindfulness activity with the kids with setting goals for ourselves. We had them set two goals for the quarter, one that was personal, and one that was yoga/mindfulness related. At the end of the quarter we gave everyone back what they had written down to see if they had met their goals. We wanted to plant the seed of setting goals to make that a familiar concept, and give them a sense of accountability. We showed them how to set intentions for themselves and then work towards maintaining them.


Q: How do you think YFF bridges the connection between mental health and social justice?

CM: We try and make mindfulness accessible and engaging for the kids. We recently did a collaboration with a mentorship program where they partnered UCLA students with kids to help further connections and increase accessibility. It was also a conscious decision to have YFF bring its program to the UCLA Community School, because it’s important to expose kids to something that they haven’t been exposed to before. It allows us to reach a community that is different from the one that surrounds UCLA, one that doesn’t necessarily have the funds to have programs like this incorporated into the school curriculum.


Q: What is your favorite part about working with the kids?

CM: When you come in to teach a class every week and they remember you. It sounds silly, I know, but one time I met a girl and then the next week she wrote my nametag for me. It makes me feel important that they appreciate me. It makes yourself feel like what you’re doing is special. It also feels great to see them get excited to do it again as the weeks go by.


Q: How do you think this early exposure to mindfulness, nutrition, and physical/social well-being strategies will affect the kids in the future?

CM: Exposure to it at a young age is important, having the memories to look back on and keep with them as time goes on. It has an influence on them. They’re at a great age of learning and trying new things.


Q: Did you have a program like this when you were younger? How would that have affected how you live out your life now?

CM: No, it was all up to ourselves to stay active. I grew up in an area where everyone was really active, and it’s important to me and to my family. Yoga is more creative than other workouts, and I think that’s why I have a passion for it. It gives me something different than what I get from just running. I think that if you don’t have the strong foundation of exposure at a young age, it’s hard to carry it with you when you grow up.



Q: What does it feel like to know that YFF and mindfulness are making a positive impact on the community?
CM: It warms my heart. We try so hard to get these positive messages out there. It’s easy to get caught up in the frustrations, but you get past it and become so incredibly grateful to be a part of something that has had so much impact. “Thankful” is a word, but I don’t think it can truly convey what I’m feeling. Being a better person and lifting each other up is such a rare thing, and we have to be thankful whenever we can do that for each other. I go there to teach the kids, but they also end up teaching me. Their energy and approach to life is what I want to feel all the time, and I feel like I have that mentality when I’m with them.


Aubrey Freitas is an undergraduate student at UCLA double majoring in English Literature and Psychology with a minor in Italian. She is a blogger for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative in the Mind Well section, which focuses on the importance of mindfulness and mental health. Aubrey is the founder of the organization Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting to people of the community in return for their donation of an article of clothing they create with the skill, to be given to local homeless shelters.

MindWell Megie

It’s Yanni, okay? How an internet divide reflects the need for cultural introspection

How can we become more aware of ourselves while holding space for other’s point of view? Photo credit: Anna Caitlin Photography.


I hear Yanni, or Yanny. I’ve seen it spelled both ways. I have no flipping clue how you would ever hear Laurel. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read this. Then come on back now, ya hear?…See what I did there?).

Sometimes the universe hands you a nice, clear example. Last week, as I prepared a presentation on multicultural assessment, Reddit delivered with an audioclip that set the internet ablaze. People heard the same clip, but perceived the message in a vastly different way. Setting aside the science of frequencies, this clip highlighted individual difference and the lenses through which we perceive the world. My lens was Yanni, maybe yours was Laurel.

Awareness of ourselves is vital for moving towards cultural competence. How do I see the world? What cultural lens am I using? Sue and Sue define culture as “all those things that people have learned to do, believe, value, and enjoy in their history. It is the totality of ideals, beliefs, skills, tools, customs, and institutions into which members of a society are born.” Each of us have our specific layer of lenses, creating a kaleidoscope through which we view the world.

In my life, what lenses do I use? Do they get in the way? How do they affect those around me, the patients I serve, my supervisors, myself? How can I increase my awareness and knowledge of these lenses, learn to talk about them with others, recognize a blind spot, notice a smudge that I want to clean in order to see differently? (Give me time, I can beat a metaphor to death).

As someone who was raised in the dominant culture (I identify as a white, cis-gendered, straight woman) and considers themselves an ally, I feel powerless at times. I want to know what “to do” to better the world, my community, the people I serve. It took me a long time to see that this desire in and of itself is my culture. I was raised believing that I could change things for the better, and if you see a problem, work to fix it. But for topics like multiculturalism, allyship, privilege, etc., the end result is not clear. What would be useful? Can someone tell me how to go about navigating the nuanced terrain of diversity…a list would be particularly lovely.

For me, this journey towards increasing my knowledge of diversity has included quite a bit of embarrassment. A lot of, “Oh my gosh, I have totally said/done that before.” This journey is not about me showing other groups or people that I am with them, but about looking at myself and taking personal responsibility. That whole, “put on your mask before assisting others” idea. So, for all of you list-lovers like me, here is a cultural introspection “to do” list:

  • Be curious.
  • Use tools.
  • Find your group.
  • Be kind.

One. Be curious. Curiosity is vital to increasing awareness and is one of the best ways to learn about yourself. Well, actually, siblings or honest friends are also helpful (see number three). Be curious about your viewpoint, why you think the way you think. Additionally, be curious about the experience of others. You will never know if someone hears Laurel or Yanni unless you ask. Be curious, but don’t push.

Two. Use tools. There are various consciousness-raising tools available. I prefer those that allow for, and expect, intersectionality. My personal favorite, the Social Matrix (page 40), was created by Jodie Kliman, Ph.D. It allows you to explore the ebb and flow of privilege and marginalization within yourself and your own social landscape. Working with this matrix, I saw my privilege in a new light and it allowed me to “do” something. This knowledge changed me and changed the way I move in the world. Take a look. I encourage you to fill out the matrix for yourself. Next, fill it in for someone you think you know well. Then talk about it. Where were you spot on? Where did you miss the mark? This brings us to three.

Three. Find your group. One that allows vulnerability. Where you can have challenging conversations, be called to the carpet, and learn to handle the feelings and thoughts about yourself when you “step in it.” The road to increasing your cultural competency is a long one. Actually, I hope I’m the not the first to say this, but this road doesn’t end. We never “become” culturally competent, but can continue to strive towards it. Basically, don’t go it alone.

Finally. Four. Be kind. To yourself and to others who are working to increase their own awareness. This stuff is hard. Embarrassment, shame, and guilt will be some of the hardest hitters on this journey, followed by anger and sadness. Each is important to feel and move through. Therefore, kindness is vital. As the Dalai Lama said, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”


Megie Shean is a postdoctoral fellow in the Clinical Neuropsychology of Trauma and Resilience Track at UCLA’s Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Behavior. She earned her doctorate in clinical psychology at Pacific University and completed her pre-doctoral internship at the Vanderbilt University/VA Tennessee Valley Internship Consortium. Her clinical interests include Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury, and the use of complementary and alternative treatments.


Peter Whybrow in HCI Blog

Eudaimonia Honoree Spotlight: Peter Whybrow

For the second year in a row, the Healthy Campus Initiative is hosting the UCLA Eudaimonia Awards. This year’s ceremony will be held tonight, April 24th, after a TEDxUCLA Salon on the subject of altruism at the Pauley Pavilion Club.  What is eudaimonia? It’s human flourishing, living a good life, prosperity, happiness, and how people live to achieve these goals. The ceremony will honor remarkable people in the UCLA community for living lives rich in meaning and purpose. One of the honorees is Dr. Peter Whybrow, the chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA, physician-in-chief at the Lynda Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital, and author of the book The Well-Tuned Brain.

AF: What is something unexpected or something that we may not know about you?

PW: I grew up in the rural countryside in England. I spent most of my young life wandering around by myself and with friends, riding bicycles, working on the local farm, and generally becoming enchanted by the countryside and nature. This is how I got into studying biology and endocrinology, and later psychiatry. These experiences triggered in me a real appreciation of the human within the place of the world.

AF: What does eudaimonia mean to you?

PW:It gives you purpose in life, but it doesn’t just happen. It only comes through hard work. [Eudaimonia] is not something that descends on you, it’s something that you really have to work at. The natural state of the human mind is not just joy and happiness, in fact, it’s instinctually driven, self-interested, focused on the first term, and ruled by habit. Most people don’t sit around enjoying the sunny day, they’re flying around all over the place. The important thing to remember is that eudaimonia comes from a true understanding of the world and awareness of it.

We have wonderful powers of reason and personality, but we don’t use all of that in the world. A lot of imagination is fed to us through technology, and I’m a strong believer that we need to pay attention to the human world, to the natural world, and out of that grows a sense of responsibility and character that then brings harmony and a joy of living. That’s why we have to work hard at it, we have to override this sense of self interest and the way in which we are built.

AF: What advice would you give to someone looking for meaning and purpose in their life?

PW: It doesn’t happen naturally. If you follow Adam Smith’s cardinal values: fairness, benevolence, and prudence, it builds character, and if you have character, in the long run, I submit you will have eudaimonia. You will be flourishing because you have joy in yourself and all the things you do for other people. Being attached to others allows you to find this sense of balance that eudaimonia applies.

AF: Time is often a barrier for wellbeing for students and many others. Any advice on prioritizing wellbeing amidst a busy schedule?

PW: That’s true, but it’s only because they make it so. Self-regulation is not done all by yourself, of course, it’s learned from the people you grow up with, your parents, and significant people in your environment. But self-regulation comes from a thoughtful understanding of the way in which individuals are and then recognizing the priorities of what is good for them and what is not good for them, and that is what wellbeing is all about. So when you say that time is often a barrier to wellbeing, I don’t believe that. The misuse of time is a barrier to wellbeing, but you’ve got to learn how to self-regulate yourself to use time appropriately. Unfortunately, we live in times which that does not easily happen. You can’t cultivate eudaimonia in a debt-fueled consumer society where material gluttony is in fact the order of the day. We want more, we want our machines to go faster. We are our own worst enemy. It’s not just the marketplace, it’s the way we have interpreted the market place.

AF: What gives you purpose in life?

PW:  The joy of humans. Not only knowing yourself, but in the ways that you extend yourself to others in ways that are pleasurable and valuable to them, and very giving to one’s own self.

Aubrey Freitas is an undergraduate student at UCLA double majoring in English Literature and Psychology with a minor in Italian. She is a blogger for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative in the Mind Well section, which focuses on the importance of mindfulness and mental health. Aubrey is the founder of the organization Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting to people of the community in return for their donation of an article of clothing they create with the skill, to be given to local homeless shelters.