Author: Varun Narayan
Editors: Angelo Bravos, Hannah Pescaru, Fahad Hassan Shah
Image Credit: Zoom US
COVID-19 has infected many worldwide and social distancing measures have been enacted to reduce infection, especially in the United States. In terms of schooling, students may be feeling increased stress and isolation as they remain home during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. It is important for school counselors to check-in on students, even though they can no longer meet face-to-face at school. As universities switch school to remote measures, students have very mixed reactions as to how it impacts their mental health. There could be many reasons as to why students could be stressed. Certain reasons may include protracted social isolation, ill family members, lost jobs or internships, and financial debt beyond fears of the virus. For some college students, changes in the way schooling and education operate have forced them to juggle their physical well-being with possible financial stress, lack of resources, and negative mental effects from the environmental change in classrooms. Universities and colleges have the responsibility to reach out to students, inform them of any decisions that are made, and provide materials for students to help them be active in their academic decisions.
Keywords: COVID-19, Universities, education, virus, students
The Mental Health of College Students
College students have encountered numerous challenges leading to poor mental health in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. However even before the pandemic started, one in five college students experienced one or more diagnosable mental disorders worldwide (US News, 2020). COVID-19 has enhanced these prior mental problems to a higher degree. The fact that the COVID-19 pandemic affects collegiate mental health emphasizes the urgent need to understand these challenges in order to inform the courses of action that can better support college students in this crisis. Specific research presented from four college students talks about their transitions and challenges faced from changing from normal schooling to online schooling. These students also provided activities that they engaged in to combat their mental health needs and challenges posed by COVID-19.
In this study, Varun evaluated the mental health status of several students from different schools, to get various reactions. He chose peers or friends that he was particularly familiar with. He also took legal consent from these people regarding their responses and whether their names should be included. The way Varun selected these individuals was based on their social rank on the college scale, along with how studious each college was. He decided to evaluate a student from an Ivy League school, a student from another top-tier private school (although not Ivy League), a student from a top public school, and lastly a community college student. The test subjects were Lucas Chu (Harvard Student), Saisahana Subburaj (Duke Student), Joshua Zachariah (UNC student), and Sahil Phadnis (Rowan Community College student). The main question I wanted to address was how each student's stress variable changed in regards to their consistency within a different learning environment.
Assessments and Measures
In order to get an assessment of the data, I asked these college students to tell me how their online schooling process was going in times of COVID-19. Further questions included: did it feel any different than regular schooling, was it difficult in terms of your coursework, and did stress occur along with your assignments. If these students had any sort of anxiety or stress, I asked them what activities (leisure) they took up in order to cope with either one. These questions would help me understand how different students view their learning environments based on the difficulty level of each college they attend.
It is very clear that college students experience distress because of the uncertainty and abrupt disruption of the semester caused by COVID-19. As mentioned earlier, before the pandemic even began, one in five college students had experienced one or more diagnosable mental disorders; the psychological effects of COVID-19 may have increased this number. Many universities decided to suspend in-person classes and evacuate students in response to the growing concerns surrounding COVID-19. This course of action can lead to negative psychological consequences among college students. For example, college students often experience compounded negative emotions during times of school “closure”. Some students who find the campus almost “homelike” foster intense feelings such as frustration and anxiety during this time (Philadelphia Inquirer, 2020). Along with this, alms may struggle with loneliness and isolation while sheltering in place due to the disconnection from friends and partners. Especially from a classroom standpoint, it will be very hard for most of these students to learn their material properly. Some of these students might not have the motivation to self-teach themselves through videos or pdf lectures. Thus, this could lead to some anxiety-driven effects where students need some guidance from a professor.
These courses of action significantly disrupted college students’ well being. Given the population density in university halls, some universities have had plans to allow students to visit campuses and retrieve their belongings, which eases students’ anxiety as they are able to familiarize themselves with their school if they feel so (Best Colleges, 2020). Furthermore , some universities are considering refunding money from room and board (for example, residence hall contracts and dining hall meal plans) on a prorated basis, which may help support students financially and alleviate distress. The most beneficial advance that should be made is transferring student advising to an online format, providing academic support for students. Secondly, for students whose research projects have been affected by the pandemic, internship supervisors should actively engage in helping students seek alternative plans, including online virtual work experience, enabling them to work from home (Psychology Today, 2020).
The additional stress placed on students currently has left some struggling to manage their mental health during quarantine, social distancing, and milestones such as graduation. More than two hundred college and university campuses across North America have temporarily closed (US News, 2020). Some activities that students are actively participating in include exercises such as yoga, dancing, and workouts. There are also some interactive learning apps that can work to relieve some students’ stress from their coursework : online book clubs and online language exchange programs (Psychology Today, 2020). For most college students, spring can be a particularly anxious time. April can contain a series of make-or-break final exams, and many final-year students will be frantically searching on the job market with uncertainty about what they want to do next. From Psychology Today, it has been said that “mental health research indicates that routine and structure can foster positive mental health and psychological resilience”. Students need to take some innovative and creative measures to protect their mental health, now that their “normal” activities and comforting routines are stripped.
COVID-19 has led to the suspension of some in-person counseling services. There are numerous online counseling services available to students. One of many, Keep.meSAFE is a mental health counseling service for students with 24/7 access to licensed counselors by telephone and texting platforms (JED Foundation, 2020). Press Pause is another counseling service that encourages students to use simple mindfulness techniques (breathing exercises, meditation, music) to deal with stresses and challenges that can make college students feel overloaded (JED Foundation, 2020). To end, JED’s Love is Louder Action Center is there for students to look at resources in order to take care of their physical and mental health, and to help support each other during this time of uncertainty (JED Foundation, 2020). Ultimately, everything has changed in a short period of time and students have been asked to leave schools and dorms abruptly; these programs can help adjust and comfort most students.
College students are mentally vulnerable and the current circumstances on college campuses are exceedingly stressful and socially isolating. College students are at an elevated risk right now, and school-related mental health services must adapt to support their students during these circumstances. According to an April survey by Active Minds, 80 percent of college students say the COVID-19 crisis has negatively affected their mental health (Chronicle, 2020). From this data, it is safe to advise that colleges will have to help students throughout this wave of psychological distress, being careful about the messages they send. At Florida State University, students can turn to the Student Resilience Project website for resources to encourage positive mental health (Chronicle, 2020). University leaders have regularly promoted the resilience project in their outreach towards their campus community. At William & Mary, more than 13,000 people have participated in virtual offerings that range from a two-minute meditation to an art-therapy video (Chronicle, 2020). Stress hurts students’ ability to learn and colleges can respond by helping students comprehend their strengths when they feel overwhelmed.
After gathering my results from these four college students, it is to my understanding that almost everybody seemed to prefer an online-based learning environment rather than a classroom-based system. Most of these students’ said that their grading was on a pass/fail system, so their motivation tended to decrease. Especially for Harvard Student,Lucas Chu, he said that his time with online learning was not at all stressful and that he got to spend more time with his family overall. He was able to “stay sane” as he recalled, while also having many leisure activities to engage in. For UNC student Joshua Zachariah, he found it extremely, “effective to work ahead of time” as opposed to going along with the teacher’s step by step curriculum. That way, he was able to focus his mind on other relaxing activities that would help him stay mentally healthy. He told me that he would take short breaks to either workout or watch a TV show periodically.
For Sahil Phadnis, a Rowan Cabarrus Community College student, he said that he had no issues with online classes because it allowed him to work at his own pace. For a lot of college students like Sahil, Josh, or Lucas, they prefer to learn independently and hopefully grasp certain information in a different way. Because of this type of learning, some students feel more confident in their studies because they can retain more information remotely than they do through in-person learning.
For one college student, however, it was not the same. Saisahana Subburaj is a Duke Student, and for her, it was pretty difficult to manage her classes. As she recalled, “it’s pretty difficult to just sit and do physics for 30 hours a week”. A lot of people re physics as c is one of the prerequisites you have to take in college, so I can see how it can take most of a student’s time. She later told me, “It gets to a point where I have no more motivation to do my work”. This is a scenario in which some college students need a teacher in order to learn the material properly, especially for a class that needs you to think abstractly.
The current public health emergency in response to COVID-19 has disrupted life on many university campuses and increased anxiety in many college students. COVID-19 will continue to impact collegiate mental health and wellbeing. Therefore, it is crucial for universities to build awareness of students’ mental health concerns, and to empower their students to seek help during this pandemic. Through this study, it turns out that all of the college students interviewed have great coping mechanisms to help them stay sane during these times. Knowing how to relax occasionally allows your brain to stay in its comfort zone and gracefully, pick back up on any schoolwork after. Certain activities such as watching a TV show, playing video games, or even fun learning (language, coding) allow students to relax their mind and prosper academically. College students should have good coping strategies to meet their specific needs and promote their psychological toughness, even if they have stress or anxiety. Substantial efforts made by universities should be dedicated to helping students thrive during this pandemic. Universities will be positioned to help all stay well in mind, body, and spirit (Psychiatric Times. 2020).
Surveys Conducted from Active Minds
Brown, S., & Kafka, A. C. (2020, May 11). Covid-19 Has Worsened the Student Mental-Health Crisis. Can Resilience Training Fix It? Retrieved June 8, 2020, from https://www.chronicle.com/article/Covid-19-Has-Worsened-the/248753.
Conrad, R., Rayala, H., Menon, M., & Vora, K. (2020, March 23). Universities' Response to Supporting Mental Health of College Students During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Retrieved June 5, 2020, from https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/coronavirus/universities-response-supporting-mental-health-college-students-during-covid-19-pandemic
Kerr, E. (2020, April 27). How College Students Are Managing Coronavirus Stress. Retrieved June 6, 2020, from https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/how-college-students-are-managing-coronavirus-stress
Whitley, R. (2020, March 19). Improving Student Mental Health During the COVID-19 Crisis. Retrieved June 7, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/talking-about-men/202003/improving-student-mental-health-during-the-covid-19-crisis
Writers, S. (2020, April 22). Coronavirus and the Student Mental Health Crisis: BestColleges. Retrieved June 9, 2020, from https://www.bestcolleges.com/blog/coronavirus-and-student-mental-health-crisis/
COVID-19 and managing mental health. (2020, May 25). Retrieved June 8, 2020, from https://www.jedfoundation.org/covid-19-and-managing-mental-health/
Ao, B. (2020, May 14). College students experience mental health decline from COVID-19 effects, survey finds. Here's how to get help. Retrieved June 5, 2020, from https://www.inquirer.com/health/coronavirus/covid19-coronavirus-college-students-mental-health-20200514.html