Student Mental Health Issues on the Rise Due to the Ongoing Impact of the Pandemic
Updated: Mar 25, 2021
By: Maria Giovanna Jumper
The transition to online learning has not been easy for students, professors or other members of the staff. With the one-year anniversary of shutdowns just reached, students have been facing a year of isolation and mental health crises. Much of the year has been spent isolated from loved ones, friends, classmates and former co-workers. A recent PBS report, titled “How the pandemic is impacting college students’ mental health,” stated that 3 out of every 4 Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 have experienced and reported poor mental health in conjunction to the pandemic. According to the report, these students have felt isolated on campus and there has been an overall increase in depression and suicidal thoughts among college students over the past year. Adelphi has seen consistent statistics, although not identical, as many students struggle with the impact of Covid-19, according to Joshua Altman, the associate director of the Student Counseling Center.
“There is a heightened sense of anxiety and isolation that students are experiencing,” he said. “One of the most important aspects of college life is the interpersonal relationships and sense of community that students build on campus, and due to CDC social distancing guidelines many folks don’t have access to that sense of community.”
Among the students who reach out to the Student Counseling Center, there have been numerous issues that they’ve shared that are leading to anxiety, depression and other mental health concerns, according to Erin Furey, outreach, training and mental health promotion coordinator. She said they have been reporting their struggles while isolating from friends and classmates for health safety, while also dealing with complicated family dynamics.
These dynamics include needing isolation to be able to study, when many may not have their own bedrooms or homes. Furey said that some have to juggle hiding courses in subjects their parents don’t approve of, like humanities classes when their parents value STEM more, or classes in gender, race and sexuality that their family may find issue with.
Other students have reported that they have had to hide their identities from their families, according to Furey. Specifically those students who identify as LGBTQ+, but who are not able to be open about it to their families or in their homes. These students have had to deal with the mental health crises associated with hiding their identity in their homes when they do not need to on campus.
Then there’s the fact that the consequences of the pandemic are ongoing, and after a year, students are still struggling with the adjustment to life in lockdown. One of these is Julia Bacarella, a junior nursing major. “The lockdowns have definitely taken a major toll on my mental health as a whole,” she said. “I went into lockdown very optimistic, picturing an extended spring break. That spring break then turned into the longest months of my life.”
Here Bacarella is referring back to the extended spring break we experienced around a year ago. We were all caught off guard when campus shut down and did not open for in-person classes until the fall semester. This was the start of the heightened anxiety and stress that would continue to this point.
“It got to the point where I was having daily anxiety attacks because being in the house was unbearable,” Bacarella continued. “I felt alone and vulnerable even though I was simply with my family who I love. Although online classes did sway my attention and give me something to do, the anxiety of trying to focus and feel all caught up was just too much. I know my professors did the best they could do during these unprecedented times, but I still felt incredibly overwhelmed as I’m sure a lot of people did.”
Another issue that has caused widespread anxiety and depression has been the ongoing national struggle for social justice and the riot that took place in the Capitol on January 6. The Counseling Center has been a resource for students who are struggling with these issues. Furey said, “The Center functions from a social justice standpoint. We were ready to educate students during the Black Lives Matter protests and were ready for the forums and in all forums someone from our staff was there. Students were saying they are hurting. White students were confused on how to help; students of color were hurting, so we started a support group.”
Additionally, Furey said that students have mentioned the Capitol riots in group sessions and have spoken about the uncertainty and stress that unfolded that day.
But perhaps the stress that is most common for Adelphi students at this time comes from their classes. Furey encouraged faculty to “develop more flexibility and empathy for students.” Ways of achieving this are sending out recordings of classes, being flexible with deadlines and dates, and even transparency in grading.
“Students have a lot going on with their mental health and familial responsibilities,” she said. “It is a great help for these aspects of flexibility to be present.”
Another way to support students is by allowing them to keep their cameras off during class. This will especially help those who do not have privacy. Additionally, the Counseling Center will be starting a support group for faculty and staff to help them adapt to this crisis and learn ways to support their students. They understand how hard it can be to notice signs of crisis when students are over Zoom.
“I do feel like the beginning of the pandemic last March, professors were very lenient with school work, pushing backtests, etc.,” Bacarella said. “I lost a loved one due to Covid-19 last April and it took a large toll on my motivation. I reached out to my professors and they were 100 percent understanding and even extended some of my assignments so that I could grieve without worrying too much about school.
“However, I feel like professors aren’t as lenient as they were last year. I do understand they are under a large amount of stress the same as we are, but I just wish things could be different,” she said.
Some have also stated that the ongoing pandemic has affected their motivation. Bacarella said this was true for her. “I am a very visual learner, so I have to be in class. Although I have adapted to online school, it is definitely something that I would not wish on anyone. On top of that, I have two six-year-old brothers that live with me so that also definitely makes it hard to focus when I am in class.”
Bacarella added, “I try to stay as motivated as I can by reminding myself of my future goals and aspirations and how I can achieve them.”
Furey said one of the concerning consequences of the past year is that the Counseling Center has reported an increase in substance use and abuse among students, which is consistent with nationwide numbers. Furey said, “Students who used substances in the past are tending to overuse or abuse; students who never really did are beginning to now.”
She said the turn to alcohol and drugs as a coping mechanism has been expressed through TikTok videos and other social media content and students have picked it up.
Although this year has been hard on everyone, practicing self-care and self-compassion can help us keep moving forward throughout this difficult time. For Bacarella, focusing on self-care made a difference. “Over the past year, I started going to therapy, which definitely has helped me cope with everything going on in the world. I have also started journaling a lot more and meditating, which has helped tremendously.
“I would definitely say to don’t hesitate to reach out to friends and family for a helping hand during this time,” she continued. “I found the most comfort in reaching out to my best friend and calling her nightly just to talk. It gave me a sense of normalcy and the feeling that I was most definitely not alone.”
To help students cope with all these stressors, Furey recommended they utilize the Student Counseling Center’s resources. Here students can learn preventive measures for managing stress and anxiety. Additionally students who have turned to substance abuse can go to the Center without getting in trouble for the actions they have taken. Furey, who can be seen around campus wearing a “Be Kind” mask, emphasized that the Center is there to support students and help them through times of crisis, not to punish them. They can be reached via email or phone and appointments can be made for either in person or online. Additionally, if you are living at home and those living with you do not believe in counseling, you can email the Center to find ways to connect without risking your safety in your home.
Furey also mentioned that in the coming days there will be 1,000 free subscriptions to the app headspace. Headspace is a meditation and sleep app that Furey recommends, but knowing that paying for its service may not be possible for all students the university was able to secure some free subscriptions. More information can be found on the Adelphi news website. (See “Student Counseling Center Partners With Headspace to Offer Mindfulness App to Students.”) Additionally, students are welcome to take part in group sessions where they can hear from both mental health professionals and their peers.
Furey added that the Center has many options for meeting with students, including over Zoom. “We talk about counseling, we talk about coping skills, self compassion and kindness, and never underestimating the power of students being kind to themselves. Tell yourself something positive about yourself everyday.”
If you need support at this time, or any other time, please contact the Student Counseling Center. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 516-877-3646.