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College mental health crisis: Thoughts from current students & tips to help

CMS 120A Capstone Project

Fri, Apr 30th 2021 03:40 pm

By Riley Bermingham

Special to Niagara Frontier Publications

For many, college is a time for freedom, growth, and change. College is being independent for the first time, and it is exciting, new, and daunting. College is also late nights in the library spent with a coffee and a textbook.

It is no secret that, with these new beginnings, comes an element of stress – and there probably always will.

Days crammed with classes and studying for midterms and finals – ask anybody, it’s not easy. But, it is all worth it when you spend time with friends, make it to the weekend, or fall break, or spring break … or at least that is how it used to be.

The pandemic has exemplified the regular stresses of the college lifestyle, but made it even more grueling.

Universities have shifted to remote learning, paused in-person clubs and extracurriculars, and condensed their calendars, removing breaks as a precaution to avoid unnecessary travel and a possible outbreak of the coronavirus. This is an effective way to prevent the spread of disease and maintain the physical health of students, but mental health may be taking the backseat.

Sarah Ketchen Lipson, a mental health researcher from Boston University and one of the co-principal investigators of the Healthy Minds Study, said 83% of college students said their current mental health has negatively affected their academics, and approximately 66% of college students have felt more alone and isolated this semester than ever before. This data was collected through an online survey administered during the 2020 fall semester through the Healthy Minds Network.

Students interviewed for this article said college was a little different this year, to say the least, and elaborated on their personal experiences as students in 2021.

Julianna Argenio, a Niagara University transfer student, said, “The coronavirus has affected me in the way of not being as social. I am someone who always has to be doing something and doing something with people. With restrictions and rules to follow, I haven't been able to do as much. Finding a way to be safe and smart during the pandemic is something that I have had to learn while socializing during a pandemic.”

The restrictions put in place have affected all students, but first-year and transfer students especially. Many students have yet to familiarize themselves with peers, professors, and the campus, adding another aspect of unfamiliarity to the year.

Olivia Sauda, a first-year student at Gannon University, said, “This year and especially last summer, my mental health was at an all-time low. We had restrictions on what floor we could go on and what buildings we could go in. It was difficult to meet people and create a circle of friends when the university was preventing us from even speaking to students outside our floor.”

She explained the university’s revised calendars made her transition to college life challenging.

“Due to the coronavirus, we could have no contact with outside friends and family and switching from living at home to living at college was hard enough. Not being able to have a familiar face in my dorm made me feel isolated and alone. Being someone that already struggles with depression and anxiety, these precautions made living at college almost unbearable.” Sauda said.

Is there a way for colleges to help students maintain good mental health while also keeping campuses physically safe?

Sauda recommended colleges improve their mental health resources by creating support groups, increasing staffing and mental health awareness as a whole.

“Personally at my school, we lack staffing at the counseling center,” Sauda said. “There is typically a waitlist of two to three weeks just to get a first appointment. Having more staff would increase outreach to students and overall make counseling have a more positive connotation.”

“Being able to meet more people who relate to your struggles makes it easier to relate and open up to others,” she said.

Many colleges have implemented various self-care days throughout the semester to provide a break for students in the absence of their normal holiday breaks.

Anjulyn Hvisdak, a first-year student at Canisius College, said “Cura Personalis” days, or “care for the whole person” days on campus, created a more positive experience compared to that of the fall semester.

“After having no days off last semester, the school got much feedback from students saying it was very hard on their mental health; so they implemented these mental health days in response to the students and to give the students days for themselves and to get back on track,” Hvisdak said.

“These days have honestly been very helpful because it gives us something to look forward to and they almost feel like a reward for all the hard work we have been doing,” she added. “They allow us to have time for ourselves, which we often forget to do in the midst of school, homework and practices.”

While adding self-care days is a smart way to provide a break for students during the semester, some students are unable to use these days to relax due to their rigorous schedules for the rest of the week.

 “I do think self-care days are important for students because it does give us a break, but giving us more self-care days in future years would help tremendously,” Argenio shared.

“Having one day off in a span of a few weeks is not enough,” she added. “Our brains are already on high max capacity with school, exams, work, studying and coronavirus; so to have more days off to focus on our mental health would be prime.”

“Personally at my school, we lack staffing at the counseling center,” Sauda said. “There is typically a waitlist of two to three weeks just to get a first appointment. Having more staff would increase outreach to students and overall make counseling have a more positive connotation.”

It is completely normal to feel anxious, stressed, overwhelmed, especially during the pandemic, but remember that you are not alone.

Below are some resources and tips that can help students cope with however they may be feeling. These ideas are inspired by California Community College’s “How to Practice Self-Care During the Coronavirus Pandemic.

√ Establish a daily routine and keep to it: When stressed, it is easy to fall out of routines and stay in bed under the covers. However, setting small goals for the day and sticking to a routine puts you in control.

√ Try to form a new, healthy habit: Exercising, going for a run, or doing yoga are ways to stay physically active and get endorphins flowing through the body, which will improve mental health as well. If you are unable to exercise, light stretching, meditation or going for a walk are great alternatives.

√ Stay Social: Even while maintaining physical distance, it is possible to stay in touch with friends and family. Utilize technology and communicate through calls, FaceTime and social media, or safely meet with a few friends outdoors while following proper protocol.

√ Reach out to friends or professional help if needed: Many colleges hold remote counseling services over Zoom or Google Meet or have access to outside mental health providers. Do not hesitate to find help. If you’re experiencing an immediate crisis, call 911, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255), or text “COURAGE” to 741741 (Crisis Text Line).

 

 

 

 

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Niagara Frontier Publications works with the Niagara University communication studies department to publish the capstone work of students in CMS 120A-B.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of NFP, NU or the communication studies department. Moreover, efforts have been made to encourage the proper use of sources, and discourage anything that would constitute plagiarism.

Comments or concerns can be sent to the NFP editorial department, care of the managing editor.

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