It's OK to be sad: Student mental health awareness becomes cornerstone amid pandemic

Zoe McGhee • Managing Editor


Image courtesy of Freepik

Wear a mask. Stay six feet away from everyone. Try not to leave your home unless you absolutely need to. No guests are allowed. We can only fill to half-capacity. This event is now cancelled. This event is online now. Don’t forget, your classes are on Zoom now.


The coronavirus has completely flipped everyone’s realities upside-down. Hundreds of new rules including the ones above have been repeatedly thrown out into the world along with the expectation of completely adapting to a new lifestyle. Despite the pandemic having existed as early as November 2019, thousands of people are still struggling to adapt to the status quo mentally, especially students that are attending schools and universities.


“I’m kinda sad,” Nursing major and freshman April McDaniel said. “I don’t get to do anything and I’m always at school. “[My mental health suffers] a little bit because I’m struggling in my classes and it’s really hard. It makes me sad that I’m struggling because I usually don’t struggle as much as I am now.”


With a global pandemic, social justice movement, environmental scares, and a controversial election and presidency, the UT Tyler counseling center had to quickly adapt and prepare for the likely and inevitable decline in campus mental health.


“We’re doing Telehealth, so we’re available to students who are all over Texas now,” UT Tyler Counselor Linda Long said. “We had to scramble I think [after the pandemic hit]. We actually didn’t have telehealth up and running before that so that is something that we did get going early in the March/April time frame, so that was a big shift for us.”


Image courtesy of The World Federation of Neurology

Due to Telehealth being new to the UT Tyler campus, many students including McDaniel were unaware of the service even being available as a part of the Student Counseling Center.


“I haven’t tried to contact anyone on campus about mental health,” McDaniel said. “I know that if I need something [mental-health wise] they’ll come down here or something? I don’t really know.”


Despite attempts to make the new service known, students’ motivation to find such services would likely be diminished due to the state of current mental health largely shared by the student population.


“I think we've tried to spread the word and advertise but there are definitely students that don't realize that that's available to them,” Long said. “We weren’t fully prepared, and I don’t think we’re serving everybody that would need help right now because I think when you're down in the dumps and experiencing depression you're not gonna have the motivation or energy to figure out where to find help and resources unless it's like right there in front of you.”


According to telehealth.hhs.gov, Telehealth is the use of electronic information and telecommunication technologies to extend care when you and the doctor aren’t in the same place at the same time.


Using Telehealth, the Student Counseling Center follows a Collaborative Stepped Care model which offers a wide range of services to meet students’ wellness and mental health needs. Students’ initial visits are considered the "First Step".



Image courtesy of the Center for Innovation in Campus Mental Health


During this visit, they will meet with a counselor, who will use their clinical training to work with them to identify the best next step, which may include wellness activities, online services, group counseling, single session problem solving, and/or identifying a need for intensive services.


However, many students like McDaniel use their roommates as their social interactions to help cope with the trials of the pandemic.


“[To cope with the pandemic] I like to hang out with the couple of friends like my roommates that I have because I don’t really have anything else,” McDaniel said. “Whenever I’m by myself I get really lonely so I try to distract myself a lot.”


Although there are resources available for students who wish to utilize them, there are other ways to cope that don’t require a professional.


“I would recommend that [students residing on campus] contact their families if they’re supportive,” Long said. “And that they look for virtual events and things they can get involved with to get more of the traditional college experience. I would also recommend journaling for general well-being.”


The transition for freshmen during this past Fall has not been without the regular difficulties of an incoming freshman, but with added stresses due to social distancing.


“I think it’s even harder for students who are coming in as freshmen,” Long said. “They’re away from home for the first time and with a lot of classes being online or hybrid on top of the social distancing, I think the tendency is for students to isolate more than they would ideally want to do.”


“It’s harder to make friends, and with the students here on campus they’re more likely to make friends with people like their roommates rather than venturing out. It’s definitely not quite the same campus experience as they would have liked to have.”


Immediately coming from a high school setting to a more rigorous college setting is challenging for anyone, and proves to be even more difficult due to online learning.


“I already graduated with my associates degree [out of high school] so I jumped right to my prerequisites.” McDaniel said. “I am struggling because I didn’t expect it to be so hard, and especially with everything being online. I’m not an online learner, I’m more hands-on. Like one of my Anatomy and Physiology classes is strictly lectures and videos and I struggle a lot with trying to just watch videos and things like that.”


Despite the added difficulties, the restrictions that have been placed upon everyone on campus can result in increased academic focus, especially for freshmen.


“Every cloud has a silver lining,” Long said. “This cloud is pretty big, but the silver lining to me right now is that you’re able to come in as a freshman and there’s not really as many distractions from class. [They] can maybe focus on adjusting to college on the academic side right now and definitely spend some time with [their] roommates. There’s less potential to get involved with the party scene because there isn’t much of a party scene right now.”


Overall, the coronavirus has caused a world-wide headache that seems impossible to shake. However, the suddenly slow nature of everything can prove to assist with mental health with a new perspective.


“It’s a let-down for a lot of students who were really looking forward to their college years, which I think is a time when you are the most socially involved,” Long said as a final remark. “Friendships are so important [along with] forming new friendships. That’s harder right now and there are still ways that you can be involved...and there are still things that you can do. Look for those opportunities but also take it as kind of a reflection time and a time to pause and have a little bit of a slower pace to life.”


Students who wish to make an appointment at the UT Tyler counseling center can click here or call 903-565-5746.


Students can also call the 24/7 Crisis Hotline at 903-566-7254.


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