As many colleges and universities make plans to reopen to students, the considerations are numerous for how to safely allow students, faculty and staff back on campus. The American College Health Association (ACHA) has created a resource for higher education institutions to refer to with considerations on how to safely reopen. As part of these considerations, ACHA notes that COVID-19 has taken an immense toll on student mental health, which is leading to concerns about increasing rates of depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, suicide and domestic violence.
Students are already sharing how the emotional, social, and financial disruptions — combined with the fear and uncertainty about the future resulting from COVID-19 — are affecting them. In a recent survey, 80% of college students reported that COVID-19 has negatively impacted their mental health. If and when campuses reopen, a majority of students will return to campus as changed people, due to the isolation created by this global pandemic. This requires colleges and universities to appropriately prepare for how to manage the long-term impact of COVID-19 on student mental health.
New Stressors for Students
“Students face multiple stressors as they seek to adapt to the ‘new normal’ with COVID-19,” said Dr. Jan Hall, executive director of mental health at TimelyMD. “Often these stressors create or exacerbate anxiety and loss. Some noticeable signs of distress that may come to the surface during remote learning include assignments turned in late and withdrawal from classes.”
Student mental health stressors related to COVID-19 include:
- Being disconnected and physically separated from friends.
- Fearing the virus directly impacting the student, a family member or friend.
- Feeling isolated and alone.
- Missing major life moments from college, like graduation or other on-campus activities.
- Transitioning from in-person to remote classes.
- Adapting to a new living and studying environment.
- Losing current employment or future job opportunities.
Better Engagement with Student Mental Health
Whether resuming in-person classes or continuing remote learning, higher education institutions need to reach out to students to provide mental health resources and support. “This may take the form of educational resources,” said Dr. Hall. “Higher education can also take steps to normalize stressors and feelings that students are experiencing by opening dialogue about mental health, while also creating awareness among students and faculty about when it’s time to seek out emotional support.”
The ways higher education can provide mental health support for students include:
- Providing access to mentors and advisors, whether online or in person.
- Keeping students informed about campus counseling resources, such as counseling centers or other resources.
- Encouraging faculty to promote ways to stay connected, like online office hours or study groups.
- Offering 24/7 access to emotional support through telehealth.
Access to Appropriate Mental Health Resources
When it comes to student mental health, it takes a campus culture that reduces the stigma around asking for help and encourages students to reach out when support is needed. It’s up to institutions to ensure that faculty and students are knowledgeable about the warning signs of mental health distress, and also are aware of the resources available for students who may need support. It’s critical that professors and administrators consider new ways to support students remotely, if campuses are closed or a student is in quarantine. “This is the time for higher education to be proactive in supporting mental health, and to follow up to make sure students are connected,” said Dr. Hall.
Colleges and universities must be prepared with the appropriate mental health resources to support the needs of students. ACHA notes in its considerations for reopening campus that with many colleges and universities adopting telemental health services during the pandemic, these institutions may now find it beneficial to balance between telemental health and in-person care. ACHA also recommends that campuses make every effort to support telemental health care for enrolled students not physically present on campus. With many students experiencing grief and anxiety due to changes at institutions because of COVID-19, it is critical that students have an accessible, responsive outlet for emotional support.
In response to COVID-19, TimelyMD’s Campus.Health is an immediate telehealth solution that enables medical and mental telehealth for students, and can be launched within 24 hours. If your campus is in need of immediate support or considering long-term solutions to support student mental health, TimelyMD is ready to provide student-focused care for your campus. Contact us to learn more.