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Students: Seek Out Mental Health Help During COVID-19

It's Mental Health Awareness Month, and to encourage you to seek help if you need it, here's a look at mental health during the pandemic and how you can find resources.

*Please note: This article has a trigger warning for discussion and statistics on suicide and depression.*

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, so do the effects on many students’ mental health. Since the inception of the coronavirus in early 2020, many teens and young adults have experienced new signs of or an increase in pre-existing mental health symptoms. For those experiencing such symptoms, you’re not alone. Let’s take a look at how drastically the pandemic has affected mental health in high school- and college-aged people, plus resources you can seek out if you need help.

Mental health statistics during the pandemic

According to 2020 surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 40.9% of respondents noted experiencing mental health or behavioral health concerns during the time of the pandemic, and 10.7% of respondents contemplated suicide, with 25.5% of these respondents being between 18–24 years old. Moreover, nearly 75% of respondents within this same age bracket reported experiencing a minimum of one mental health or behavioral health concern. Some of the most common concerns reported by the 731 young adults in this age category included symptoms such as depression (52.3%), anxiety (49.1%), emotion- or stress-related substance misuse (24.7%), and thoughts of suicide (25.5%). The Newport Institute also recognizes the various pandemic-related aspects impacting suicidal thoughts of young adults, including concerns like future-oriented anxiety, a lack of social engagement with others, and the necessary need to live at home where they grew up due to significant life interruptions, including college taking place online, a loss of one’s job, or difficulty finding work post-graduation. 

Related: The Importance of Mental Health in a COVID–19 World 

Students need to focus on their mental health

There’s no doubt that focusing on one’s mental health during the pandemic is a priority for promoting overall well-being. Increased anxiety, stress, and social isolation are just some of the additional challenges college students have faced for the past few semesters, for both freshmen and seasoned college students alike. According to a survey conducted by Strada-College Pulse in September 2020, college students provided a glimpse into what’s was seriously stressing them out. The survey found that 44% of college students identified anxiety, lonely feelings, and stress to be the most prominent challenges during their fall semester. Survey results also signified that 21% of respondents were strongly challenged by managing their academic workload, and 14% of those surveyed noted difficulty in locating sufficient space for engaging in studies and online classes. Financial burdens also surfaced in this survey, with 14% of respondents having strong concerns about paying for tuition and academic expenses.  

Mental health resources

Another challenge resulting from the pandemic is that many college students have struggled to locate mental health services to assist with such symptoms and stressors. According to AARP, who referenced professional opinions by licensed therapists, most mental health providers have had extensive waitlists or aren’t able to accept new clients during the pandemic due to the increase in need for services. A 2020 survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) also indicated that 30% of psychologists are having difficulty keeping up with the rise in demand for mental health services. 

Related: Why It's Crucial to Care for Your Mental Health in College 

How to find the resources you need

With such facts at hand, it’s understandable why many students are truly stressed out. However, hope isn’t lost. Despite the increase in negative mental health symptoms in young people as well as the shortage of help available, many are finding that they’re securing therapists with persistence. For those interested in locating services, the first step may include contacting your college’s on-campus counseling center, which may offer either long-term therapy or short-term services that involve mental health assessments and referrals to outside providers. Once referrals are provided—which can also be found independently via Psychology Today—contacting each potential therapist and asking to be placed on their waitlist may increase your chances of being seen sooner. Moreover, sending follow up emails and asking where you stand on the waitlist may be the type of persistence needed to secure a spot for services. Continue to maintain open communication with your counseling center until a therapist is secured, as additional support can be provided. Some insurance companies’ behavioral health member services departments may also help in actively locating a therapist with a quick turn-around time. 

Practicing self-care 

During the process of locating a therapist, prioritize self-care practices to manage some of the pandemic-related stressors. If you’re stumped about which practices to engage in, try assessing your life balance and satisfaction in various areas to produce some ideas. These may include your social life, physical health, emotional and mental health, school and career, family life, spiritual life, and other relevant areas. Assessing which areas may be lacking in balance and setting goals for improving satisfaction may help identify where self-care can be prioritized.

For those who would like to begin working on additional interventions for their mental health concerns, various self-help workbooks are available, which can be located online or in stores. Although self-help books aren’t meant to replace professional therapy, they offer exercises integrated with common evidence-based practices, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, which can help with a myriad of symptoms like anxiety, depression, and more. Beginning work in specific self-help books may get the ball rolling on caring for your mental well-being and can be a good conversation starter for therapy once a therapist is found. 

Related: A General Guide to Mental Health Awareness for Students

Although the pandemic presents its challenges for most of the young adult population’s mental health, help is out there. We encourage you to stay persistent in making your mental health a priority so you can thrive and move forward in your life.  

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for free and confidential support 24/7.

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