A student looks at a laptop screen, where a mental health provider is speaking.
VCU student Hollyann Purvis demonstrates a TimelyCare session with a licensed mental health provider. (Photo by Kevin Morley, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

Interested in checking out TimelyCare? Here’s what you can expect.

VCU recently began offering students and employees access to TimelyCare, which provides on-demand virtual mental health counseling, scheduled counseling, and self-care and well-being tools to help students and employees thrive.

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When a Virginia Commonwealth University student or employee decides to schedule an appointment with TimelyCare — which provides free, 24/7 virtual mental health care services to VCU students and employees — they can expect to meet a therapist such as Annette Popernik who will have three primary goals for that first counseling session.

“I’ll usually tell [students], ‘This session today looks unique from what other sessions would look like. Today, there are three parts,’” Popernik said. “’One, I’m going to give you some information on what TimelyCare is and what we do, general information and logistical things. Then we’ll just jump into getting to know each other, talking about hobbies, personalities, likes and dislikes. And then that third part is talking about how I can support you and what brought you here.’”

After the initial session with TimelyCare, future appointments tend to be more free form.

“I like to tell them, ‘Today we can talk about one of those things that’s on your mind. I can either ask you questions because you’re like, ‘I don’t know where to start,’ or you might say, ‘I’ve got a topic, something happened. I want to talk about this,’” Popernik said. “Some students will come, and they’ll say, ‘Don’t interrupt me. I’ve got so much I want to spill!’ And some students are not sure what to say, and they just need guidance. So I let students know however they’re feeling today is OK.”

Every session includes check-in questions about feelings of nervousness and anxiety, about feeling like they can’t control their worrying, about feeling less interested in hobbies or other activities, and about feeling down or depressed.

The therapist will also ask questions checking in for safety purposes, such as: Are your medications up to date? Anything different? Have you had any thoughts of suicide? Are you having any difficulty with eating habits this week?

“A lot of times students might not know how to talk about this stuff,” Popernik said. “So we want to give them the space to do that by asking directly about it.”

An array of health and well-being services

VCU began providing free access to TimelyCare in the fall semester.

The platform’s services — which are offered in partnership with VCU’s University Counseling Services — are meant to support health and well-being by connecting students and employees with services that meet them where they are, including with flexibility in scheduling.

TimelyCare includes these services for all students and employees:

  • Scheduled counseling. VCU students and employees have access to 12 free 45-minute counseling sessions with a licensed counselor for the 2022-23 academic year. The counselors can offer support for stress and anxiety, adjustment issues, relationship issues, depression, grief and loss, trauma and PTSD, addiction, panic disorders and more. Students may visit com/vcu or download the TimelyCare app to access care.
  • TalkNow provides free 24/7 on-demand access to a mental health professional. It offers support for stress and anxiety, suicidal thoughts, feeling down, worry, relationship concerns, social isolation, hopelessness and more.
  • Health coaching. VCU students and employees can access no-cost, virtual appointments with health coaches to help start or maintain optimal sleep, nutrition, exercise, weight and stress management for holistic well-being.
  • Digital self-care content. Designed to support a sense of calm and de-stress when students need to unwind in a healthy way, the digital self-care content includes yoga and meditation sessions, as well as group conversations with our providers on topics such as healthy relationships, grief and loss.
  • Peer Community. Peer Community is a judgment-free space that empowers students to seek support in a vulnerable and authentic way while helping each other navigate similar challenges and common concerns together.

Since TimelyCare launched at VCU six months ago, roughly 1,200 VCU students and 200 employees have registered. Feedback so far has been encouraging, said Jihad Aziz, Ph.D., director of University Counseling Services.

“What we’ve heard from students so far is positive,” he said. “Some students are interested [in TimelyCare] because they offer evening and weekend hours that work best for their schedules ... Students have found it easy to use and an easy way to be able to access therapy.”

Emphasizing accessibility

Forty-four percent of VCU student visits through TimelyCare happen after-hours and on weekends, underscoring the need for 24/7 access to care, according to TimelyCare.

Plus, Aziz said, the virtual care service has helped complement University Counseling Services’ work to provide on-campus, in-person care to students.

VCU is working to increase the ease of accessibility of TimelyCare, Aziz said, and is encouraging the VCU community to sign up.

“I want our students to know that there is support out there for them, it’s free and they have access to 12 sessions of mental health support,” Aziz said. “I want to encourage people to use it.”

TimelyCare was also made available to all VCU employees in the fall, providing them with free access to mental and emotional health resources anytime, anywhere.

TimelyCare was among several new resources to support health and well-being launched at VCU this academic year.

Another new service for VCU students, called You@VCU, is a platform that helps find tips and tools for everything from mental and physical health to friendships and finding balance.

VCU also launched a service called Kognito, which is an online conversation simulation tool that helps faculty and staff recognize signs that students may be in distress and provides guidance for talking with students and connecting them with appropriate campus support.

“We’re hoping to encourage more utilization of Kognito,” Aziz said. “It helps faculty and staff think thoughtfully about how they can best support students who might be in emotional distress.”

VCU’s new and existing health and well-being resources can be found at RamStrong, which provides information for students and employees about resources from the eight dimensions of well-being: physical, emotional, financial, occupational, intellectual, environmental, social