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By Karis Wynings
Special to Niagara Frontier Publications
Following the coronavirus pandemic, mental health has become a growing concern, especially for young adults and college-aged people. Adjusting to college life is stressful enough in itself, so adding on the stress of the pandemic, more students reported having mental health problems. The need for counseling services or other mental health services continues to rise for this age group.
“Pre-pandemic, there were definitely students with lingering mental health concerns who were just hanging on and functioning, but when the pandemic hit and the isolation kicked in, it was the breaking point for those students. Then there were students who didn’t have mental health concerns until the pandemic, where they were isolated, remote, and even parents were stressed due to teaching their kids and basically homeschooling their kids and working from home themselves,” licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) at Niagara University, Melody Miller, said.
Based on the Healthy Minds Study, more than 60% of college students, nationwide, met the criteria for at least one mental health problem during the 2020-21 school year, while 75% of students reported moderate or severe psychological distress.
The Niagara University study area inside the library, empty.
Not only were students stressed due to the pandemic, but there are many other things that caused mental stress.
√ Adjustment to campus life
The outside world:
√ Economic strain
√ Social injustice
√ Mass violence
Those all play a role and can add worry to students and cause even more mental stress, according to the American Psychological Association.
All the stressors in young adults’ lives are draining on their minds but aren’t always seen as a bad thing and there are many ways for students to get the help they need. The American Psychological Association said many students have sought out help, such as on campus counselors, increase in group counseling/therapy and telehealth services.
“After the pandemic, I have felt my mental health change but I now feel more in tune with understanding my emotions,” first year student at Niagara University, Nicole Peunic, said.
Being stuck at home for so long was a struggle for most, but it allowed for a lot of thinking, and sometimes overthinking, to occur. It forced students, like Nicole, to reflect and learn more about themselves and their emotions, which isn’t necessarily always a bad thing.
During the pandemic, and even following it, universities around the country have increased their openness to talk about mental health and allowed for more faculty to connect with their students in a different way without being face to face.
“Throughout the remote learning phase of the pandemic, faculty really became students’ main points of contact with the university,” associate professor and director of undergraduate studies in psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, Bridgette Hard, Ph.D., said. “It became more important than ever for faculty to be able to detect when a student might be struggling.”
Although not all faculty has to act as a counselor for their students, it is beneficial if they are a support system for their students. Professors and teachers should be understanding of students’ mental health concerns because, based on the American Psychological Association, mental health is often overlooked and significantly affects students’ success and retention. Faculty can be a stepping stone to guide their students in the right direction to get the professional help they need, if necessary.
The National Student Clearinghouse’s Research Institute said that after the coronavirus pandemic, there has been significant declines in enrollment and increase in dropout rates in colleges in the United States. It is very difficult for young adults to navigate their way in the world and having dealt with the pandemic and being isolated and then getting back into the school routine has clearly caused an increase in mental health concerns and the need for mental health resources.
The 2022-23 school year has been the most “normal year” in a couple years, so students are trying to get back in their school groove. As the semester is coming to an end at Niagara University, many students feel burnt out.
“The pandemic made me more of a procrastinator. I’ve felt burnt out from college during this semester. It is the transition from high school to college and the workload,” first year Niagara University student, Anna Perry, said.
Stress.org said burnout is work related stress that can negatively affect one’s mental health. There are many warning signs to burnout such as frustration/anger, sadness, irritability or annoyance, and even physical warning signs like restlessness, headaches, body pains, or stomach issues.
There are plenty of ways to avoid burnout, or at least ways to deal with burnout that one can do on their own. Niagara University also offers free counseling services to students who may need to seek additional help. To inquire about Niagara University’s counseling services, visit https://www.niagara.edu/counseling/ or call 716-286-8536.
Niagara Falls and the Niagara County has mental health resources to help, as well. Those services help more than just college-aged people, too. To inquire about the various mental health resources in the Niagara Falls area, visit:
√ Niagara Falls: https://www.niagaracounty.com/departments/m-r/mental_health___substance_abuse/counseling___wellness_services.php
√ Niagara County: https://mhanc.com/self-help-mental-health.php
√ Niagara County Crisis Services: 716-285-3515
√ Community Missions: https://www.communitymissions.org/mental-health-recovery-services
√ Suicide prevention hotline: 1-800-273-8255 (available 24/7)
Nearing the end of the fall semester at Niagara University also means the incoming winter season and cold weather. It’s common for students’ moods to be affected by the weather.
“As soon as the cold weather comes and it gets darker earlier, we see more students in our offices. January, February, and even early March are our busy times when we see the most students and more students start to request appointments,” Miller said.
The cold and the snow cause a change in a lot of people’s moods and their mental health. With it getting colder and darker, students, and the average person, is not going to be outside as much and probably won’t be as active. In the warmer months, people are outside a lot more, riding their bikes, playing sports outdoors, moving their lawns, or taking walks around the block. In the winter, people might go outside to shovel or snowplow their driveways, but the average person, and definitely most college students would rather stay inside and cuddle up by a bonfire with some hot chocolate.
“The warm weather and sunshine make me feel way more positive and if I do feel sad, I feel like I get over faster. When it’s cold and gray out, I feel a lot worse about things and even trapped,” Nicole said.
Isolation, or just staying in for longer periods of time in the winter reflect in how students act and feel. It could cause lack of motivation as they are less active. Winter is a time when lazy habits are prone to start, too.
Especially near the end of the semester and in the winter months, it’s important for young adults and college students to take care of their mental health. The pandemic and adjusting (or readjusting) to college life adds lots of stressors in students’ lives, so prioritizing and balancing mental, physical, and social health can help students possibly avoid mental burnout through the hard times. There are a variety of different resources for students to look into if they feel they need additional professional health, as well.
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