“When you’re recovering from a crisis, you’re not necessarily super present,” Cury said. “So it’s really helpful to have someone there getting the information down and asking questions you might forget, and also someone’s who’s like, ‘How’s it going, have you made progress on these things? How are you doing?’”
She said the navigators received around two weeks of training from the program’s stakeholders about intersectionality and the LGBTQ+ community. She said she wants navigators to examine implicit bias, racism and how mental health struggles are more difficult for people who are not white at a primarily white institution.
“We’re going to really focus on continuous learning to make sure we’re providing the most culturally competent care possible, and also making sure we have a diverse navigator body and catering to the intersectionality of mental health needs, because mental health struggles and needs really do differ based on your identity and background,” Cury said.
Wendy Kadens, a referral coordinator & outreach coordinator for UNC Counseling and Psychological Services, said Tar Heel Navigators is a great way to display the full range of mental health experiences at UNC, along with the programs in place to help students in all capacities.
“It’s really about the extent to which a student feels able to continue being a student,” Kadens said. “It’s not so much about what disorder or what problem they may be having. It’s about how it’s interfering with their ability to be safe in the community.”
Peer-based programs, Kadens said, are normalizing and validating for students. She said it is different being with peers, who understand what it's like being a student and can talk about what is going on in a contemporary perspective.
“It is such a great complement,” Kadens said. “This is really a true partnership where students will have access to different kinds of support, and the programs will be able to integrate and provide a more holistic program, and I think that’s a win for everybody.”
Caroline Travis, a senior majoring in public policy and history, said her own experience being hospitalized was a motivation for becoming a care navigator.
“I think there’s a big difference in the stigma between just having a mental illness and being hospitalized for mental illness,” Travis said. “That doesn’t make you any worse off than anybody, and that doesn’t make you any weirder or more different or anything like that.”
She said it was difficult even as an individual with supportive friends and family to return back to academic life. Tar Heel Navigators, she said, would provide that support system to students without one.
Travis said the worries of COVID-19 will most likely add to the significant stressors students already face with mental health.
“We need to make sure that the students know about all their different options,” Travis said. “Being a navigator means being able to empathize and relate to other struggles that may or may not be different from our own, and this is a great program for people to understand that.”
Ruth Fetaw, a campus navigator, said she thinks the program’s peer-based focus is effective in connecting students, as they both have similar experiences while attending UNC.
“I would just hope to be a level of support, someone that they can trust,” Fetaw said. “And constantly just trying to remind them that if they need to vent, or if they just need to put their week together and have everything scheduled out.”
Fetaw said she hopes she can be a better advocate for the students she works with.
From training at CAPS, Fetaw said she became aware of the paperwork students needed to fill out when reintegrating, along with the additional hoops they already need to jump through.
“If we can be that group to limit those barriers and give students the encouragement they need to be in a better space, then I would love to be a part of a space that does that," Fetaw said.