Op-EdOpinion

PETERSON: Can Colleges Hold Space for Students’ Mental Health During a Global Pandemic?

As an undergraduate, I am concerned about how students will manage their mental health as we return to school after a tumultuous year. No one has planned for a pandemic in 2020, but we are presented with the unfortunate task of navigating these unknown times. Unfortunately, college students must navigate both worldwide events and stressful schoolwork. Unlike other countries that prioritize their citizen’s mental health, the United States has decided that physical and mental health is not a priority — and university students will suffer because of this.

College students make up a good number of people whose mental health will be negatively affected, and many fear that their colleges are not equipped to handle this.

For many students, college is already stressful enough, juggling schoolwork, jobs and extracurricular activities, but the community created in these environments often helps one cope. However, due to COVID-19, those communities are going to look quite different; many students cannot afford to go back to school, and others will be quarantined on campus. All of these add on to the impending loneliness college students are going to feel.

A survey done by the Healthy Minds Network between March and May found an increase in depression amongst college students. Considering how difficult it is to access mental health services, universities can step in and help their students by providing efficient online mental health resources.

This pandemic will have long-lasting effects on our mental and physical health. Even before COVID-19 colleges were not adequately equipped to help its students and now more than ever, students’ mental health needs to be prioritized.

The current pandemic highlights the need for improved mental health for students. Students are forced to cope with the loss of physical contact, inability to see their loved ones, loss of jobs and the death of family members. And we don’t have a chance to mourn our losses.

Even more, the idea that college students will be paying thousands of dollars in tuition and not receive adequate care is something for which students should not settle.

The pandemic heaps stress on us and it is not lightweight. It weakens the human immune system and makes us sick, a burden we cannot afford. Stress robs our sleep, distorts thinking, warps mental health, which in turn, reflects on our performance at school.

How much leeway do students have to take time for themselves, mourn, and be given proper mental health resources without fear of repercussion such as having to withdraw from an institution or failure of a course?

This burden is not just on university administrators but also on professors, while everyone is being affected by this virus, will professors hold space for students and their mental health? Mandatory class meeting times, strict deadlines and even harsher punishments are not needed during this time of unknown effects of this new virus.

When institutions first went online, many struggled with the motivation to work, depression, lack of space to concentrate on school tasks and mental disorders like ADHD that prevent one from concentrating or learning online. With no in-person support system, many students have not had the chance to grieve and process their emotions properly. Soon they will be asked to go back to school, but how can one succeed with the trauma of COVID-19 on their shoulders?

Nevertheless, during the horrible experience that is COVID-19, many students have been able to persevere and come together to help each other. From sharing online games to group-watched parties over zoom, students have found ways to create an online community. Still, while colleges expect students to pay thousands of dollars during a global pandemic. In that case, they must step up and treat their students better, and that means providing proper mental health resources and not underfunded health centers.

Dealing with the loss of physical contact and loss of lives is enough to disrupt one’s life completely. We are in constant survival mode, and if colleges want to justify why students should still pay thousands of dollars in tuition, they need to be ready to help and hold space for their students, especially the more vulnerable ones.

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