Student mental health in a post-pandemic college environment
If there’s one good thing the COVID-19 pandemic brought about, it was the general understanding and openness to talk about mental health. Historically, struggles of anxiety and depression have been so stigmatized that people living with these illnesses disregard them and don’t seek the help they need because of embarrassment or fear of judgment.
However, the extreme conditions the COVID-19 pandemic catapulted the world into left many people either experiencing mental health issues of their own for the first time or learning about them through people they were closely related to.
Michelle Martel, a psychology professor at the University of Kentucky, cites the COVID-19 pandemic for the rise of more mental health issues in the college setting as compared to before the global crisis.
“The research actually shows that the [COVID-19] pandemic’s been particularly hard on young adults, especially students coming in who have started college during the pandemic,” Martel shared. “You know, most people when they start college, it takes a few months, but they get integrated on the university campus, they make a bunch of friends. But you know, let’s face it, during the pandemic, that was like either not happening or was very hard for people. So, I think that’s why young adults have been particularly vulnerable to negative impacts of the pandemic on things like anxiety and depression.”
Anyone and everyone can experience issues with mental health, however, college students are among one of the most common groups of people to experience problems with their mental well-being. The American Psychological Association has recently said that over 60 percent of college students meet the criteria for at least one mental health problem.
The most common mental health issues faced by college students are anxiety and depression, as previously mentioned. These are the two most experienced and diagnosed mental disorders among college-aged people. Eating disorders, PTSD, addiction, and substance abuse are also common issues for college students.
Many stressors contribute to the overwhelming decline of mental health during this time of life. Many students move out of their hometown, are away from longtime friends and family for extended periods of time, experience loneliness and uncertainty when starting college and try to balance classwork along with a job, social life and personal relaxation time.
With so much going on, young adults struggle to figure out how to navigate a different pace of life than they are used to, which leads to negative thoughts and feelings as well as bad habits.
The University of Kentucky provides support for its students through a variety of resources. Along with campus counseling and behavioral health services, professors show their emotional understanding for students by being accommodating for those who admit to struggling mentally.
“You have to achieve some level of competence obviously, like I can’t just give out good grades. But you know, if you’ve approached me with particular situations, I’m happy to work with you on things like deadlines or talking to you about what’s going on,” Martel said.
According to their website, UK’s Counseling Center “offers groups, workshops, and short-term counseling to support student's growth and assist students with mental health, academic and/or other personal concerns that might interfere with academic performance or a sense of personal well-being while at UK.”
The University’s Behavioral Health Services (BHS) provides care for students who have a need for psychiatric supervision or support and guidance for psychological conditions and concerns. Crisis intervention and medication management are offered through BHS for difficulties such as anxiety, depression, stress, grief, eating disorders, attention disorders, drug and alcohol abuse and more.
Another lesser-known resource UK provides for students is the Harris Center. This is an in-house training program for psychology students that allows them to practice and provide affordable psychological services to not only UK students, but to the community as well, under the supervision of psychology faculty.
While this is mostly used as a way for psychology students to learn through hands-on field experience, it is a great resource for people who cannot afford to visit a regular practicing psychologist and the cutting-edge services they would offer there.
“In some ways, you can’t beat it,” Martel said. “But you do have to be comfortable working with someone who’s a little younger, who doesn’t have as much experience.”
Universities are striving to provide services such as these to help reduce the amount of pressure college students face and to support them through their struggles in a low-cost, low-effort way to alleviate the stigma and anxiety that comes with having mental health issues.
By providing these services, being open to conversation and advertising campus resources available to students, young adults may be better equipped to cope with their mental health and seek help when they feel helpless.