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Stories, Stats, Impacts: Wyoming Public Media is here to keep you current on the news surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

The Pandemic Has Impacted College Students' Mental Health

CC BY-NC 2.0
The People Speak!

The pandemic's impact on mental health has been felt by many, from adults to children. But for college students, that may include the entire reshaping of what they thought their college experience would be like. Wyoming Public Radio's Catherine Wheeler spoke with psychologist and Assistant Director of the University of Wyoming's Counseling Center Julio Brionez on how students have been faring.

Julio Brionez: Obviously we moved to telehealth, which has created some unique opportunities and challenges. We're able to see more students from different places because they don't have to physically present to the University Counseling Center. Some of us have gotten licensed in other states. As far as clinical presentations, it's been a lot more anxiety, social anxiety, and depression, as well.

Catherine Wheeler: Could you expand a little bit more on that? What are you seeing in those cases of anxiety and depression?

JB: I don't have exact numbers on this, but most classes are done remotely. So students don't really have to leave their living space a whole lot. They don't have to leave their room. They don't have to leave their dorms and can stay fairly isolated. So any natural activity [they] would have to alleviate some sort of anxiety [or] social anxiety would remain. And so it would be in some cases, easier. However, in the long run, it makes it harder because when you don't challenge mental health distress, it can just grow, which makes it more difficult later on. And thankfully, this semester, I think there have been a little bit more classes offered in person. However, I'm not sure the exact numbers of that, I still have the majority of students doing classes remotely via Zoom. So there still isn't a whole lot of opportunity to do things in-person. And as far as depression goes in, again, isolation is not great for depression. Isolation can make depression really hard to treat, and really hard to improve, because there's less access to do things like people to interact with. And it just makes it more difficult for everybody if there's not a whole lot of social contact to treat things like depression or anxiety.

CW: Yeah, and I know that everyone's situation and how they feel is so different, but how are you counseling students through this time?

JB: I really tried to do things that are within their scope of ability. So for example, if students need help creating routine-creating a healthy routine is really important-not forgetting that there are still options that they can do better that are healthy. They can still go to Half Acre and work out there. When the weather is kind to us, they can still take walks and go running if they want. There are still opportunities to engage civically. And in Laramie, there's still things they can do to impact change and be civically engaged, which is useful. Also, to try and create [a] study routine, study habits with peers, so people in the pods is really useful, too. So trying to create normalcy in chaos is what I've been trying to do, and it works out better some days than others. Though there's always that 9 to 11 o'clock period, with nothing really going on. And that's hard to manage if you don't have social support underneath your belt. So those are some things I have been trying to do, and try and do things that are culturally appropriate for everybody. And everyone's a little bit different, everyone can be a lot bit different. But trying to make sure that things are unique, interventions are unique for the students.

CW: Yeah and I guess, moving forward, we don't really know what the long term effects on mental health are going to be from this. So how do you and the counseling center move forward into the next year to prepare for something we don't really fully understand yet?

JB: Creatively. We look at research very frequently to see what outcomes are from people studying COVID and its impact on people of all ages all the time. And so we look at research and what it says and how to apply that to our own student body, to our student community, and what interventions we can do from that place. And then we also need to be dynamic and responsive. And we also need to be realistic. We are an extremely small staff. And it does not take a lot for us to get overwhelmed personnel-wise. I want to say that there's six or seven of us that are full-time maybe. So if we have a large influx of students that we're expecting in the fall, it's going to be challenging for us. So we're going to do our best to stay well and provide equitable and effective treatment to people the best we can.

Catherine Wheeler comes to Wyoming from Kansas City, Missouri. She has worked at public media stations in Missouri and on the Vox podcast "Today, Explained." Catherine graduated from Fort Lewis College with a BA in English. She recently received her master in journalism from the University of Missouri. Catherine enjoys cooking, looming, reading and the outdoors.
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