How has the pandemic impacted mental health challenges on college campuses?

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened mental health challenges and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports young adults are among the demographics whose mental health has been impacted.

On college campuses across America, 89% of students reported to activeminds.org they’re experiencing stress or anxiety as a result of the pandemic. And one in four students reported their depression significantly increased.

“For those who have had mental health issues, it does present some new stressors for them,” said Dr. Aaron Jeffrey, the associate director of clinical services at Weber State University. “Especially with isolation, increased screen time, not being able to keep some of the normal routines in their daily schedule.”

Mental health on college campuses

On four of Utah’s college campuses, health officials recognized many students coming in for counseling services are experiencing increased mental health challenges.

“Things seemed to really be heightened and a variety of different needs surfaced dramatically,” he said. “If we compare last year to this year, things have actually dropped off a little bit in terms of appointments…but if we compare it to pre-COVID times, I think we’re still on an upward trajectory.”

Morales said the demand for service at USU is much lower right now, but the demand often increases during mid-term and final exams.

“There has been a steady rise and interestingly, I think that has ebbed and flowed, but with students back on campus we’re definitely seeing more students seeking us out, especially for our crisis numbers,” said Dr. Lauren Weitzman, the director of the University of Utah’s counseling center.

Dr. Weitzman said students are not only experiencing pandemic challenges, but also other personal challenges.

“Sadly, students are also coming with other trauma experiences,” she said. “But it’s really all across the board, working on relationships with family and friends and then just trying to gain some skills so they can be academically successful.”

Demand for mental health services

The demand for mental health services is increasing at a rapid rate on college campuses and many schools are feeling it, some more than others.

“The demand is growing, we’re looking for ways to meet that demand,” Morales said.

And in more rural Utah, Jayci Hacker, the director of student care and advocacy at Southern Utah University said the need for support is even greater.

“Our community as a whole is pretty tapped out in providing care for our whole community,” said Jayci Hacker, the director of student care and advocacy at Southern Utah University. “So, the waiting list to get into counseling services here on campus is about five to six weeks now…and we have to lean on our community providers pretty heavily.”

Appointments and crisis care

Wait times vary by school, but on average school officials said it takes about a month for a student to get in for a routine appointment.

However, school officials said if a student is experiencing a crisis, counselors are available to help and are moved to the front of waiting lists.

University officials said they’re doing what they can to ensure students receive the mental health help they need, and schools are having to utilize help from community partners and online services.

Another option for mental health help

SafeUT, SafeUTNG, SafeUT Frontline are all apps designed to connect students to the care they need. An annual report finds in 2020, more than 30,000 students chatted on the app, which officials said is a significant increase in users.

The report also indicated if SafeUT users are actively attempting suicide or have plans to harm themselves, SafeUT works with first responders to initiate an active rescue. Between July 2020 and June 2021, SafeUT conducted 298 life-saving interventions.

Pandemic heightened some people’s symptoms

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports symptoms of anxiety and depression have increased considerably during the pandemic, which school officials note as two of the most common reasons students are seeking help.

“I think we’re all experiencing pandemic fatigue, which really wears away at us in ways we don’t really realize,” Dr. Weitzman said.

“And those have continued through the pandemic with a little bit of a sense of heightened severity because of people’s coping buffers being worn down,” Dr. Jeffrey said.

The CDC has created tips to help people cope with stress and it includes taking breaks from watching, reading, or listening to the news; taking care of your mental and physical health; talk to people you trust; connect with community or faith; recognize when you need more help.

Counseling resources

Counseling appointments can be made through school websites:

Utah State University

Weber State University

University of Utah

Southern Utah University

Other resources available also include the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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