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In the Spotlight
April 6, 2020

St. Francis College Mental Health Professionals Volunteer for State's Support Line


Natasha Edwards and Candice Abellard

St. Francis College's counseling professionals are among the 6,000 New Yorkers volunteering to the staff the New York State COVID-19 Emotional Support Line, offering support to people struggling to cope emotionally with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic in their lives.

Natasha Edwards, SFC Director of Student Health Services and Candice Abellard, SFC Mental Health Counselor, responded to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's request for qualified mental-health professionals - including psychiatrists, psychotherapists, psychologists and licensed clinical social workers -- to commit some of their non-work hours to field calls.

The hotline is free and open to anyone who wants to speak with the volunteer professionals, who listen, advise and refer callers if needed.

According to Edwards, the current situation is triggering feelings that some people have not experienced previously.

"A lot of people are feeling panic," said Edwards, who is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and, like all volunteers, completed the State's required training before answering hotline calls. "I was talking to someone [on the hotline] who had a panic attack for the first time. It's really just talking people through, letting them know 'this is not a heart attack, it's anxiety.' For many people, this is a very new thing."

Abellard, a Licensed Master Social Worker, also sees a heightened need for mental-health services right now.

"It doesn't matter where you are in the world, people are struggling to adjust to the 'new normal,'" said Abellard. "I've always had a passion for helping, and I feel like New York City needs the most help right now."

Edwards leads the St. Francis College Health and Wellness office where she and Abellard provide individual counseling for students and organize group sessions for those seeking camaraderie with their peers. All the office's services are currently available to students online.

Jennifer Lancaster, Ph.D., SFC Vice President for Academic Affairs and Academic Dean and a NYS licensed psychologist, is

volunteering for the hotline as well. She lauds her colleagues' work and sees service as the necessary response to the current situation.

"Times like these remind us of the gift of our education and training," said Dr. Lancaster, who also teaches in the SFC

Jennifer Lancaster

Psychology department. "If I am able to assist in some small way, it is my moral obligation to do so. This is what it means to live a life in service to others, one the Franciscan tenets that is central to the St. Francis College tradition."

In a March 25th press conference, Governor Cuomo praised professionals like Edwards, Abellard and Dr. Lancaster.

"We asked for mental health professionals to voluntarily sign up to provide online mental health services. Six thousand mental health professionals agreed to volunteer to provide mental health services for people who need it. How beautiful is that?"

The New York State COVID-19 Emotional Support Line is available at 844-863-9314, between 8 a.m and 10 p.m., seven days a week.

St. Francis College students can contact Student Health Services by emailing [email protected].

Pictured top: Natasha Edwards (left), Candice Abellard

Pictured bottom: Jennifer Lancaster, Ph.D.

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