The College Mental Health Crisis, Part 1: Recovering from the Global Pandemic

While normalcy has returned to Tufts after a semester of mask-wearing, virtual classes and physical isolation, some health officials have announced the arrival of a second pandemic: a mental health crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in mental health ailments across the globe. As waiting lists for psychotherapy sessions continue to grow and mental health professionals experience fatigue, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on students’ mental health has become clear.

Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology, Sam Somers, explained how the global pandemic has had an adverse social and psychological impact on college students.

“Uncertainty is not good for mental health,” Somers said. “Isolation, distance, lack of connection to other people is challenging for mental health. One of the big buffers and positive predictors of mental health is social connection, and it was hard to do that in a meaningful way during the pandemic.

While an estimated one in five American adults experience mental illness, 4.9 million people were unable to access needed care and 17.7 million experienced delayed or canceled appointments in 2020. This can be attributed to a lack of available psychologists, uninsured therapy sessions, and restricted access. For resources like internet and transportation.

According to Somers, some groups have been more vulnerable to the pandemic and its impact — including people of color, who simultaneously saw a rise in racism and bigotry across the nation.

“Being a student, or a faculty or staff member, at Tufts is already differentially stressful based on different aspects of one’s identity. We are a predominantly white institution,” Somers said. “There are tensions [and] Challenges that are unique to the experience of students of color … individuals who are gender and sexual minorities to individuals of low socioeconomic status. They all [was] Just amplified during the pandemic.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, student mental health was already a concern at Tufts. In 2016, the Office of the President created a Mental Health Task Force to assess the state of mental health on campus and make recommendations to better support the needs of students.

According to a 2019 report by the Mental Health Task Force, more than 25% of Tufts students at the Medford/Somerville and SMFA campuses accessed counseling and mental health services between the fall of 2015 and the fall of 2018. In addition, many students reported that their academic performance was sometimes hampered by mental health issues, particularly anxiety and depression.

According to Julie Jampel, Dr. Director of Training at CMHShad increased Use Compared to CMHS services during the 2020-21 academic school year when the pandemic first hit in March of 2020.

“I think for college students overall, the pandemic had a negative impact on mental health,” Jampel said. “It was different before. Isolation is harmful to people. We are social animals.

Jampel also pointed out that Tufts CMHS has had to adapt some of its mental health services, such as virtual counseling appointments and new programming such as workshops To accommodate students living out of state. Due to licensing regulations, basic clinical services were limited to students living in Massachusetts.

“We couldn’t really work the way [we] was used,” Jampel said. “Even though we can’t offer clinical services outside of Massachusetts, we can do consultations. We’ve created some programming that allows for mentorship and contact with broad groups of students, including out-of-state students.”

While Tufts and other mental health centers have had to modify their services, Jampel believes some of these Change Helped increase access to mental health on campus and still continues to this day, including virtual appointments and an online appointment scheduling system.

“Various Recruitment Modalities [and] Different ways to sign up [for appointments] All are designed for accessibility and will hopefully improve the likelihood that anyone who wants to can contact us,” Jampel said.

Somers agreed that new adaptations to the pandemic such as telehealth appointments have been shown to be beneficial for access to mental health services in settings and populations that were once hard to reach. Even in the classroom, Somers explained that he still records his lectures and uses closed captioning to make his courses more readily available to students.

Tufts CMHS has seen an increase in the use of not only its mental health services during the COVID-19 pandemic, but also Years for Peers, a student-run anonymous and confidential hotline.

“Not only did we statistically see an increase in the number of calls and texts we received during [fall] semester, but also the seriousness of the subjects,” said Libby Moser, one of the faces of Ears for Peers. “We are dealing with too many … mental health issues and crises.”

As one of the faces of Ears for Peers, Moser is a former caller who publicly represents the club. The rest of the callers, referred to as earers, are anonymous.

This trend matches a similar pattern across the United States. Among US adults aged 18-25, one in three experiences a mental health illness and 23% of young adults reported that the COVID-19 pandemic had a significant negative impact on their overall mental health.

Despite the increased call volume, Years for Peers has staff available at all times from 7 PM to 7 AM to speak to its users and has had zero waiting times since its inception.

Maitreyi Kale, the other face of Peer for Peer, also noted that there has been a gradual increase in texts and calls since it first launched in the fall of 2018. Resources for student use.

While the COVID-19 pandemic brought a lot of uncertainty and loss, Kale believes that the COVID-19 pandemic also created more awareness to recognize one’s mental health.

“Generally during the pandemic, people have had so much more time to reflect and introspect and realize a lot of things about themselves,” Kale said. “You can certainly see what types of calls we get and how many calls we get.”

Somers agrees that the COVID-19 pandemic has helped raise awareness of mental health on college campuses.

“Part of me wants to speculate that perhaps many of us are now more empathetic and attuned to the stress of being a college student or even being a human being,” Somers said. Somers said.

Tufts has made efforts to increase mental health awareness on campus, including hosting the Tufts CMHS Mental Health and Wellness Fair on October 3. The fair was made up of a variety of booths to help students learn more about coping skills and resources available. To promote their mental and emotional well-being on campus. tufts too hosted Events and activities throughout Mental Health Awareness Week, from meditation sessions to rock painting to health promotion workshops.

Despite efforts to prioritize emotional well-being across campus, the stigma associated with mental health still exists.

“I hope that stigma is no more problematic at Tufts, but Tufts is certainly a segment of society and is not immune to the prejudices that exist in society at large,” Somers said.

Moser agreed that stigma still exists at Tufts, but believes that increased awareness of mental health has helped reduce some of this shame. Moser believes that the volume of calls that Years for Peers receives reflects people seeking help for a wide variety of problems, from mild to severe.

“More people are asking for help and more people are reaching out for the big things, but they’re also reaching out for the little things,” Moser said. “I think the reflected call volume, while you know that can be a disheartening sign of worsening mental health, I think it’s a really hopeful sign in terms of getting people the help they need.”

Kale says more students are seeking help, but believes there is more work to be done to better support certain groups.

“In terms of stigma, there are some things that I think have become more accepted over time,” Kale said. “I think people with depression, anxiety, [and] neurodivergence. … there is still some [groups] There’s so much stigma around them and so much shame that people are experiencing, and it’s really hard to watch. I don’t think we’re fighting stigma at the same pace for all things.

Kale hopes to better promote the discussions surrounding eating disorders, bipolar disorders, and disability at Tufts, as well as the mental health resources available to undergraduate students.

While some students are still reeling from the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, Somers hopes an open discourse on mental health will continue.

“I think it’s a really important thing to talk about these issues openly and without stigma and without judgment,” Somers said. “I hope that our campus will only continue to be increasingly inclusive on a variety of fronts.”

In addition, Kell and Moser hope that Years for Peers can be a resource for students to share their stories and experiences in casual settings, and encourage students to call in any circumstances.

“I think one of the reasons people love Ears for Companions is because of the contingency,” Moser said. “People don’t realize this until they call us for the first time. It’s just another person, another coworker, another student. It’s someone talking to you at your eye level and it’s liberating in so many ways.

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