Addressing mental health issues during the pandemic

iStock

The coronavirus pandemic is having a profound impact on college students, especially community college students, who are wrestling with uncertainty over school, work and family life, including food and housing insecurities, a psychologist working in college mental health told two-year college leaders this week.

At a weekly joint meeting of the American Association of Community Colleges and the Association of Community College Trustees on Monday, Nance Roy, chief clinical officer at the JED Foundation, discussed mental health issues related to COVID-19. Citing a recent survey, she noted that 80 percent of college students report that the pandemic has had a negative impact on their daily lives.

At community colleges, 75 percent of polled students experienced an increase in stress, anxiety and loneliness, according to the survey by Rise, a college affordability advocacy group. Also troubling are issues that students face with job loss and financial instability and feelings of isolation and difficulty focusing.

Providing instruction online, while a great tool, has disproportionately impacted students who don’t have access to internet or computer equipment at home, Roy said.

Students also reported that they don’t know where to go for resources to help them with mental health, medical issues, food and housing insecurities.

Out of balance

The data make sense in that community college students are struggling, Roy said. More of them are trying to balance classes with parenting and working. Students did note that overwhelmingly they reach out to faculty and staff to find resources.

Many community colleges can provide resources for students using online therapy. For college leaders, Roy recommended partnering with agencies to provide services to students that address mental health, housing, hunger and financial resources. However, these partnerships must be integrated into the college culture and not just provide students with email addresses and phone numbers, she said.

Faculty and staff need training to identify potential issues and to follow up with students as needed, Roy said, likening it to acting as a social worker in guiding students through obtaining services. Several college presidents at the remote meeting noted that they have on-campus services or partner providers. MiraCosta College in California, for example, taps interns working toward a master’s degree in social work who work in the college’s student services division each semester.

‘You are not alone’

Providing faculty and staff with resources to help them reach students is also needed, Roy said. Even something as simple as messaging and posters that tell students they are not alone and can get help will assist in creating a culture of awareness and assistance for both students and employees, she said.

To that end, Roy mentioned that messaging on campus and online to reinforce the availability of resources is helpful. Public service announcements on campus, online, and on the local television and radio stations is a good way to get the word out across channels, she said. Having that information in multiple locations and showing faculty and staff where they can find it is helpful as they work to connect students and resources.

Roy also addressed the need for faculty and staff to connect with all students at this time. She encouraged colleges to use so-called calling campaigns to reach out to students and let them know they are not alone during the current health isolation. Reinforcement of the message that “you are not alone” is important, Roy said. In fact, she recommended reinforcing positive messaging on campus as well as visible resources that are easy to find for all campus constituents.

Overall, Roy’s information provided community college leaders with ways to reach out and connect with students, faculty and staff, which is critically important. Social interaction and the lack of connectedness adds to the negative feelings of anxiety and stress that everyone is currently experiencing. Connecting with students benefits both students and the college team.

About the Author

Martha Parham
is senior vice president of public relations at the American Association of Community Colleges.