COLUMN: MU must expand COVID-19 mental health services

The impetus to get help must not solely be placed on students. Mental health services should address a growing need for interaction, albeit virtual.

Cela Migan is a sophomore journalism major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about Daily Life for The Maneater.

Jamie Holcomb is a sophomore journalism major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about social justice for The Maneater.

Dear high school class of 2020, you’ve made it this far — congratulations. You have made the transition from secondary learning to higher education.

College has brought newfound freedom, but also newfound loneliness. For those who come to college without knowing anyone there, it can feel alienating to attend virtual classes and get takeout from the dining services.

For returning students stepping onto campus, this semester stands in stark contrast to their freshman year experience.

Welcome Week is unrecognizable with the absence of midnight barbecue, neighborhood block parties and several other events that now must be virtual.

Our hearts go out to the freshmen. Not only were your senior years cut short, but your graduation was socially distanced or entirely virtual.

Upon entering campus, we understand the dramatic change it is to go from being socially starved while self isolating to suddenly being surrounded by thousands of other students on campus.

It is lonely enough for some to be in a new state away from their home and friends, but to add on the stress of dealing with COVID-19 precautions and other mental health struggles is a mammoth task for any student to deal with. According to this survey of college students, a majority are moderately or severely concerned about contracting COVID-19, or someone they know becoming sick with it.

With the safety procedures and policies put in place, social interaction is restricted and masks must be worn at all times. It can be hard to find a friendly face when you can only see half of it.

Many students have a majority, if not all, of their classes online and forced limited access to socialization. This can lead to increased loneliness and depression, especially among first-year students. Rates of depression in college students have increased by about 5% since fall 2019, according to The Healthy Minds Network.

Should campus close and send students away like the situation at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, what will happen to their mental health? For some students who do not have a stable home life, returning to campus is the best thing for their mental health.

In this time of crisis, it is up to universities to adequately respond to students’ mental health needs.

Although MU supplies several mental health services, students must motivate themselves to use them. It can be hard for students to admit they need help and to take the first step toward getting help. Over 50% of college students have had more trouble accessing mental health care due to COVID-19.

MU has a Counseling Center that offers a wide array of services, like individual and group counseling, support groups and classes to learn about coping skills. They are also able to make referrals to other therapists in the Columbia, Mo. area.

However, services outside of the Counseling Center can be quite costly. Therapy sessions can cost anywhere from $65 - $250 an hour. The Counseling Center’s options are only intended to be short-term support, and students are only allowed to attend a few sessions for a certain number of weeks.

The main attraction of the Counseling Center is that it is free for students. There is a large financial obstacle for those who want to access mental health resources, and this removes that barrier.

When trying to make appointments with the Counseling Center, students often complain they have to wait a month before they can get in to see a counselor. Many students struggleare struggling with their mental health, but wouldn’t necessarily feel inclined to call a crisis line. MU needs to hire more counselors to ensure students can access care in a timely manner.

Last semester, MU invested in the premium version of an app called Sanvello, which has meditations, guided journaling and other mindfulness resources. Sanvello is a self-guided app, and some students may not want to look at a screen more than they have to. Students may not understand why meditation or yoga could benefit their mental health. These resources are thrown at them with little explanation of how they could help.

One of the greatest benefits of the Counseling Center is that it offers some sort of human interaction, albeit virtual. For the socially limited student populace, these interactions can help them to feel seen and heard. Socialization can help to relieve stress and reduce the health risks for those who are socially isolated.

While mindfulness activities are good for students who are experiencing moderate levels of stress and anxiety, they are not a replacement for professional mental health help. MU must provide that to students, especially during a time when rates of anxiety and depression in college students have dramatically increased.

Since MU decided to open campus during a pandemic, students have a right to access resources that will help them deal with the mounting stress in their life. Between coming back to school, possibly being exposed to a dangerous virus, dealing with the loneliness of social isolation and other mental health issues, students have a lot to deal with.

The Milwaukee Freedom Fund raises money and provides mutual community aid for bail, court-related costs, rides, food, water, and other needs for residents of Black and brown communities. https://supportwomenshealth.salsalabs.org/mkefreedomfund/index.html

Edited by Sofi Zeman | szeman@themaneater.com

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