COVID-19 impacts students’ mental health
Amanda Cavoto – Arts & Entertainment Editor
The COVID-19 pandemic has already and will continue to disrupt the lives of students across the university. As they adapt to a virtual lifestyle, their mental health may not adapt so easily.
Nursing major Sierra Agard, a senior, said when the university originally announced going online until April 5, it was something she could handle.
“As soon as they announced [going online for the remainder of the semester], I was a mess,” said Agard. “Everything has changed so fast it’s hard to get used to.”
Communication disorders major Alexis Simons, a senior, said the conversion to online classes has added to her stress level.
“I don’t take online classes. I do much better with in-person classes,” said Simons. “This transition to online makes me really nervous.”
Simons is diagnosed with contamination-based obsessive compulsion disorder.
“This whole pandemic is actually horrific for my OCD,” said Simons.
Struggling with mental health is at the top of social work major Amanda Valentin’s, a senior, list of worries as the university remains online for the rest of the semester.
She said the lack of structure in online classes negatively affected her mental health.
“[Before the shutdown] I was finally in a place where I was able to function independently,” Valentin said. “I feel like I was finally able to take responsibility and have a hold on my mental health. And now with this shift and this change it has shaken up my entire routine.”
According to the Director of Counseling Services Nick Pinkerton, this pandemic will continue to affect different aspects of students’ lives as time goes on.
“Students are trying to adapt to the situation. Their priorities right now are probably their classes. I think overtime, as this situation with COVID continues to unfold,” said Pinkerton, “we may end up seeing a lot more students who are affected by loss, affected by the stress of how this thing continues to be a pretty profound disruption in our lives.”
Simons lives with her grandmother, so she said the responsibility of going grocery shopping and getting other supplies falls on her shoulders, which adds to her stress.
“The whole thing is just really scary, and the OCD does not help,” said Simons.
Valentin lived on campus and was forced to move back home after the shutdown.
“Living at home where they’re not my rules I have to follow, my things are different, my routine is different, the atmosphere is different and I just feel like I lost that grip that I had,” said Valentin.
In an effort to serve students, Pinkerton said the counseling services the university provides will continue to be held online.
With the shutdown happening unexpectedly, Pinkerton said as of right now they are using telephone communication to conduct sessions, but will be using Webex, a video communication platform, in the upcoming weeks.
“Right now we are still in the process of vetting and getting approval to make sure that any platform we use is in full compliance with our legal and ethical requirements for confidentiality for clients,” said Pinkerton.
Valentin said she thinks it is a great effort that the university is offering counseling online, but said she knows there will be some challenges.
“It’s different. It’s going to be different, just like every other aspect of this whole thing,” said Valentin. “But an effort has been made and that’s a good thing.”
While Pinkerton said the virtual sessions are effective, he misses the face-to-face interactions.
“I miss being able to meet with people one on one. To look into the eyes of another human being and be in a moment in physical time and space is something that’s very beautiful,” said Pinkerton. “At the same time, I’m grateful to be able to have the ability to meet with students in whatever way they can meet and to provide whatever support I can.”
Simons said while she understands the switch to online therapy mandated by the state of Connecticut, she questions its ability to continue to help some students.
“It would be more difficult to maintain privacy online if part of your stress comes from family, or a household that you live in, and they hear you in your therapy sessions, how effective is that really going to be?” said Simons.
Agard said while she prefers face to face interaction in her classes, she is happy counseling services are still being offered.
“It’s better than nothing. Going from having [counseling services] to completely nothing at all,” Agard said, “because I know a lot of students depend on it.”
With the pandemic affecting nearly the entire population, he said it is no surprise to him that there was not an immediate surge in students seeking counseling services at this current time.
“We’re here. We’ve certainly taken some phone calls from students who are distressed. We’re working with our continuing clients, but there has not yet been a surge of students,” said Pinkerton.
Pinkerton said more students have probably reached out to their friends, family and their loved ones, rather than a clinician, as a natural response to a worldwide crisis.
As time goes on in this pandemic, Pinkerton expects more people to seek mental health services.
“I don’t think we’ve seen quite all of how this thing is going to unfold. There hasn’t been an immediate upswing in demand for services,” said Pinkerton, “but honestly I expect that things could change overtime as this continues to unfold.”
Agard works as a student nurse associate at Danbury Hospital and said that the virus has caused some anxiety in the workplace.
“Everyone’s really on edge right now — it makes things a lot harder,” said Agard.
The Office of Student Affairs has teamed with counseling services to provide virtual events for students starting this week, with a focus on prevention.
When creating the programs, Pinkerton said the question they kept asking was, “How can we help the broader student population feel a sense of connection, feel a sense of belonging and cope through all this disruption?”
Despite some beginning challenges with technology, Pinkerton is confident in his staff’s ability to serve students well during this crisis.
“Some folks are just more confident about their use of technology and some folks are not. Some folks really love technology and some folks not as much,” said Pinkerton. “What’s absolutely true across my staff is that they’re all super invested in supporting students. We are doing everything we can to rise to this occasion and to adapt in the way we need to be there for our students.”