COVID-19 left college students depressed and anxious. Who will pay for their therapy?

Sania Soni knows what a surprise it would have been if the world had been better without you.

22-year-old Sonny feels it is important to be open about her lifelong struggle with mental health. His lowest point came six years ago when he tried to take his own life. She now says that she is “so grateful that I am moving” but acknowledges that gratitude comes over time. Since hospitalization, Sonny has learned to overcome her depression and anxiety, emphasizing therapy and supplementing it with medications as needed.

But then COVID-19 turned the world upside down last spring, and the Drexel University graduate – who completed his bachelor’s degree last month and went on to a full-time job in the tech sector – had to work in an entirely new reality. In the process, his mental health took a significant hit.


He is far from only one. Several studies conducted since last March have shown an increase in depression and an increase in anti-depressant drug refills in college-age young adults. As these students graduate and join the workforce, they do so without the free or cheap mental health care available at the college, which is concerned economists.

Health care professionals are therefore not calling on universities to expand, trim on-campus counseling resources for students and staff when they personally restore instruction in a few months.

“I’m worried that once things return to normal, colleges will become complacent,” said Gerry Taylor of the American College Health Association. “I think there is going to be a kind of backlash, a kind of PTSD from COVID. We are still seeing people who have lost their jobs, are in financial straits with their families. Those issues will still remain. “

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When Sonny moved from her home in the Bay Area to Philadelphia, where Drexel is located, she knew that she would need to build a support system on and off campus. But when COVID-19 hit and Drexel did everything online, much of that support system evaporated. Sony went home and immediately started pushing.

“I was most depressed when I was in high school,” Sonny says. The first few months at home, she was afraid that she would return to severe depression.

In Phoenix, Gregory Carnacey felt the opposite – his anxiety increased when he returned to the campus, not his home.

Carnesi, 21, a budding senior who studied psychology at Arizona State University, “has been in medicine and has been taking drugs for longer than I can remember – most of my life.” His mental health issues include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and general anxiety.


When the epidemic began in March 2020, he immediately went home. And when the campus reopened in August, he went back, hoping to be more productive surrounded by other students. It did not go according to plan.

“At home, I was separated from COVID; I could almost pretend it wasn’t affecting me, “he says. “But when I went back, I saw how bad things were: the campus was a ghost town. There were COVID-19 awareness posters everywhere. It was just a constant reminder that this epidemic is killing people – even Even in the dorm bathroom, those reminders were the first things you saw. The reality of it all affected, and it really scared me. “

Gregory Carnesi, a senior at Arizona State University studying psychology
At home, I was separated from COVID. But when I went back, I saw how bad things were: the campus was a ghost town. … The reality of all this was affected, and it really scared me.

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Concerned about the dismissive attitude of many students towards COVID-19 – ASU’s reputation as a party school was not a hit during the epidemic, they say – Carnesie went back home again. He completed his junior year almost entirely online, devoid of any kind of social celebrations. He feels robbed of a typical college experience.

“I wish I could say the most things I made, that I was thriving in this quarantine environment, but in reality, I lived in a kind of stagnation most of the year,” he says. “I was really just living day-by-day and keeping my head above water.

To promote mental health awareness, Carnacey, related to the ASU Active Minds chapter, has called for therapy to help deal with it. He has many friends who have done the same, some of them accessing campus resources for the first time.

It is no surprise to Jerry Phelps that both Sonny and Carnacy struggled and needed the help of a professional therapist. A psychologist, who has spent more than two decades working in the counseling and psychological services of the University of California, San Diego, Phelps saw a 50% increase in student counseling placements from the 2019-20 school year to 2020-21.


The destruction of mental health issues has become the subject of a heated conversation over the past few years, particularly as celebrities and social media influencers have encouraged the public to adopt the idea that “it’s okay not to be cured.”

“We have this group of young adults at the national level, who are very open to mental health treatment,” says Phelps. It’s a good thing.

Tiffany O’Mera, one of Phelps’ consulting colleagues in UC, San Diego, says she has been killed by another group who are eventually accepting that students may need help.

“Staff and faculty are now interested in talking,” O’Meara says. “There have been a lot of requests for CAPS advisors to talk to their department and help them find out, ‘How do we respond to students in crisis? How do we help them?’ “


The group they are still fighting? Parents.

Phelps wants him to attack the phrase, “Well, when I was in college…” from the parents’ vocabulary.

“That was a long time ago,” he says. “People need to understand: this is not your father’s college experience. Students are under a lot of pressure today.”

Stigma worsens in communities of color

Another layer complicating the destruction of mental health: color, in many communities of mental health and related treatment, is a taboo subject.


Soni, daughter of Indian diaspora, The solution to this problem is straightforward. She says universities need to recognize the nuances. “It’s not just about, ‘Is the counseling center accessible?’ … Do they represent the counseling student body? “

Obstacles and stigmas related to mental health, especially in communities of color, may soon be broken, she says, if universities make it clear that counseling services can and should be used at all times.

“Universities need to do more than send a newsletter with their phone number every time there is a crisis,” says Soni, who works with the Z Foundation to organize mental wellness workshops for students of color. “We need to be fully double on services.”

Sania Soni, a graduate from Drexel University and an advocate for mental health support at universities
Universities need to do more Instead of sending a newsletter with their phone number every time a crisis strikes. We should fully double down on services.


Students using campus services receive benefits.

When COVID-19 exploded in New York City, Columbia University student Raisa Alam moved back to Queens with her parents. Despite concerns about loved ones becoming potentially ill, as well as severe isolation and money problems, she completed her bachelor’s degree in neuroscience this spring.

However, going home had its positive aspects. Alam benefited from the increase in teleotherapy, which is an essential axis for closed campus services.

“Nobody had to see me walking into the office,” she says. “I didn’t have to get up, put on clothes or make-up. When it’s on the phone, I feel more open to talk freely because I’m not subconsciously concerned about my physical appearance . “

Grade requires medical, but how to pay?

Phelps in UC, San Diego, agrees that teleotherapy is here to stay, with college campuses and beyond, increasing the popularity of companies such as Talkspace and Betterhelp. This would be particularly beneficial for recent graduates entering the workforce who may not have health care coverage that covers personal care, usually more expensive than telehealth.

Sally Sadoff, an economist at UC, San Diego, believes that there is more to investigate when it comes to the link between depression and the economy.

“If you think just think financially,” she says, “there is a lot of evidence that these mental health problems, along with the direct costs (for insurance companies), on the health care system are very Is expensive. (Worker) on things like productivity. “

In Colombia, Alam has been awake for the past few months, worried about the uncertainty of her future. Amidst all the advice given to the earliest graduates, he did not miss anyone talking with the Active Minds chapter of Columbia about the importance of mental health outside of his work. She wonders how she will continue to pay for the therapy.


“I’m definitely finding it as I go, and I’ve kept thinking about it on the back burner because I’m so busy,” she says. “Sometimes it’s not easy to prioritize your own self-care. It’s not something that someone teaches you, and it didn’t come up in any of our undergraduate seminars when they were talking about joining an alumni network Were. “

Raisa Alam, a student at Columbia University in New York City
Sometimes it is easy to not prioritize your own care. This is not something that someone teaches you, and it did not come at any of our undergraduate seminars when they were talking about joining an alumni network.

No one can predict the consequences of sending a depressed graduating class into the workforce; The long-term effects of mental health-related epidemics will not be known for decades. But Carnesi at ASU believes in the ripple effect and says that every conversation about mental health helps reduce stigma.

“Mental health has been characterized extensively in the media as a serious harmful health condition – you’re explosive; you’re always on the verge of breakdown,” he says. “People think that it is at the forefront of my personality or it defines me. But when we have honest conversations, you find that it is not.”


Understanding that mental health conflicts are not binary is also important – not whether one has them or not, but rather that they may experience short or long-term conflict throughout their lives, often at varying intensities. . And it does not need to cripple one’s existence.

Phelps in UC, San Diego, is quick to acknowledge that the epidemic has historically affected marginalized and at-risk groups disproportionately, and that students will have a harder climb than their privileged counterparts. He knows best about the challenges faced daily by college students – and he is still optimistic.

“We must recognize the struggles that these classes have faced,” he said. “But these people, they are resilient.”

If you or someone you know is going through a difficult time, you can get support and practical next steps at the National Coalition’s Helpline on Mental Illness. Call 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or email from 10 AM to 8 PM Eastern Time.


If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) at any time of the day or night, or chat online.

Crisis also provides free, 24, confidential assistance via text message to people in distress by dialing text line 7181.



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