Pittsburgh College college students are creating areas to speak about psychological well being in the course of the pandemic

With a worsening pandemic, another stretch of mostly online courses, and a national backdrop of political unrest, students from the Pittsburgh area are turning to their colleges – and each other – to meet growing mental health needs.

Kayla Koch, a senior at the University of Pittsburgh, said students were already struggling with the transition that college life brings, but the pandemic has made things more difficult.

“The entire pandemic is a time of trauma,” said Koch. “We all experience trauma and are expected to produce and exist as if we weren’t.”

She is working to create a space where students can honestly talk about mental health.

“Our goal is to go to these meetings and say, ‘This is normal. Express your struggles. Tell us what’s going on, ”Koch said of the DMAX Club, a national mental health organization with a Pitt chapter that begins this semester under her leadership. “Maybe we can help. Maybe it’s just a place to vent. Maybe this is just the stress reliever you need at the end of the week. ”

The 22-year-old Koch said the desire for a safe student room was a personal one that began three years ago when she started at university. She studied Psychology and Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies and found that she was incredibly worried about going to some classes. They triggered problems with violence, consent, and coercion from the partner.

“I’ve had a lot of new mental health problems,” she said. “It was something I hadn’t really thought of before, but now I’m in a new environment with new expectations and suddenly everything is worse.”

Kayla Koch in front of the William Pitt Union at the University of Pittsburgh. (Photo by Jay Manning / PublicSource)

After finding a therapist, Koch said she was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and PTSD. She wants to help make the college experience a little easier for other students, especially those who are struggling to find a support network. This has become even more difficult in the pandemic.

At the beginning of the spring semester, colleges in the Pittsburgh area responded to the pandemic by postponing their calendars and expanding COVID-19 testing. A major issue that universities must address is the continuing need for mental health resources.

Universities already had before the pandemic Challenges with waiting times and time planning as students face the sometimes difficult transition to college life. Last spring, more than one in five college students said their mental health deteriorated significantly under COVID-19, according to a national with Active Minds survey of 2,086 students. The three most common psychological stressors were stress or fear, disappointment or sadness, and loneliness or isolation.

These common concerns were also noted by colleges in the Pittsburgh area, although the pandemic has changed the way students receive services.

“It is too early in this different and challenging experience to fully understand how students avail of counseling services,” wrote Jay Darr, director of the Pitt Counseling Center, in an email. “Preliminary data suggests college counseling centers across the country are seeing a 29% drop in occupancy rates, which varies from center to center.”

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Universities had to switch their services from mostly face-to-face to online, said David Reetz, president of the association for university and college counseling centers. The development of telehealth and telemental health was associated with challenges.

Because conditions regulate therapy individually Licensing In terms of pricing services, colleges using telemental health services faced limitations in reaching students across state lines.

“Many places offer case management services to these students to help them connect with a mental health provider in their home state,” said Reetz, who is also the advisory director at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Students living on campus tend to be more preoccupied with on campus activities and student services than students living off campus. With more students off campus during the pandemic, Reetz said the use of mental health resources has declined.

Other factors include fatigue from online learning and the increased reliance on established networks at home for students studying remotely. But Reetz added that so far the students have been just as pleased with telemental health as they are with personal service.

Ian Edwards, director of advisory services at Duquesne University, said the students were studying isolation and loneliness, as well as economic and academic challenges.

Duquesne offers online workshops and remote counseling to try to help.

“We also want to be more present in the classroom and enable discussions and workshops on wellbeing,” Edwards wrote in an email.

According to Shane Chaplin, executive director, Carnegie Mellon University’s Counseling and Psychological Service is offering customized services like teletherapy to assist students during the pandemic.

“We added a number of virtual rooms, including online workshops and ongoing weekly skill clinics on topics such as anxiety, sleep, self-compassion and mindfulness. Connecting rooms tailored to traditionally underrepresented groups – such as international, black, and LGBTQ + students – who may experience increased isolation; Support groups on a variety of topics including COVID grief, home and family, and depression; and more traditional group therapy offerings, ”Chaplin wrote in an email.

Chaplin found that student use of traditional counseling services has decreased compared to previous years.

Still, the students urge colleges to deal with mental health problems. Eric Macadangdang, President of the University of Pittsburgh Student Government, said Pitt and other schools should work to help students get out of the pandemic.

“If we don’t resolve and address things in the moment, we will have lasting effects and have all sorts of links to the mental health issue,” he said.

Macadangdang said student mental health needs should be addressed now to alleviate challenges if college can be resumed in more traditional ways.

“We will still have students who have literally lived through almost a year and a half of traumatic event,” he said.

College clubs that promote mental health awareness add to the gaps.

At the CMU, the Here for You Club offers students a place of community. The club, which has held online meetings, offers discussions on mental health issues, sponsors resources, and works with university officials to improve student voices.

Melvin Ofosu-Koranteng, a 20-year-old junior mechanical engineer, said the club full of friends helped him because “at least for me it meant having this little community.”

A man is walking the Carnegie Mellon University campus March 27.  In response to COVID-19, the CMU switched to distance learning for the remainder of the semester and encouraged all students to live on campus if they are able.  (Photo by Kimberly Rowen / PublicSource)

A man is walking the Carnegie Mellon University campus in March 2020. (Photo by Kimberly Rowen / PublicSource)

The feeling was confirmed by another club member, So Young Jeon, a 22-year-old physics major at CMU.

“I technically live overseas alone, so I’ll also find that I don’t speak to anyone at all during the day until we get to our Here for You meetings,” she said. “It was very important to me to have this small community to talk to people and check in.”

Brandon Bohrer, the club’s vice president, stressed that political unrest like the far right insurrection in the U.S. Capitol is also affecting mental health.

“As long as we live in an unjust and unfair society … this injustice will create and exacerbate mental health problems for people,” Bohrer said.

To cope with the events at the Capitol, Darr of Pitt’s Counseling Center recommended that students unplug social media, pay attention to how they were feeling, focus on calm and staying healthy and socializing connect to process their feelings.

Kamakashi Sharma, 20, a Pitt junior and president of the campus chapter of Active Minds, said the spring semester will still have challenges as students try to find routine. The chapter hosted virtual events throughout the fall semester to allow students to speak openly with one another.

“I feel like there’s this longing for community, but there’s also this idea of ​​isolation and a desire to withdraw and be alone for the entire semester,” Sharma said. “Crossing those boundaries was very difficult for the students – myself included – just understanding how much time is too much for me and how much time is not enough for me.”

Officials and students emphasize that those who have mental health problems are not alone.

“It’s about making social connections,” said Reetz, “and creatively creating social connections and the ability to talk about difficult and complex social problems – making space for both.”

Naomi Harris, in partnership with Open Campus, covers higher education at PublicSource. She can be reached at naomi@publicsource.org.

This story has been verified by Megan Gent.

Mental health reporting has been made possible with funds from the Staunton Farm Foundation, but news decisions are made independently of PublicSource and not on the basis of donor support.

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