At the beginning of any new school year, it’s not uncommon for college students to have challenges adjusting to academic or social life on campus. But, add a global pandemic to the mix, and now more than ever, students may struggle with increased stress, anxiety, or depression, according to a new study led by the American College Health Association and the Healthy Minds Network.
“Undoubtedly, the pandemic has taken a toll on our mental health,” says Dr. Alison Markson, Director of the Counseling Center at Curry College. “Many students may experience some stress associated with the transition to college. However, as we have started the new semester, we know students may struggle with anxiety because of COVID-19. For these reasons, we’re offering services to students who may feel isolated or lonely right now.”
To support students, the College has introduced several new virtual mental health and wellness initiatives aimed to help them succeed in their transitions as first-year or returning students. At the Counseling Center, counselors organize both individual teletherapy and group sessions or workshops using Zoom video conferencing or Doxy Me (a teletherapy software platform), a practice that started in March when the campus moved its operation remote.
“Because of COVID and public health recommendations, telehealth has become an increasingly normalized modality for support and treatment. Particularly as so many students have already had experiences with telehealth in their own communities with primary care physicians, I think telehealth will be here to stay, in some form. While we value the traditional face to face aspect of therapy between student and therapist, we are exploring how teletherapy may help to meet the needs of our students,” says Dr. Markson.
In contrast to the traditional face-to-face interaction, new research shows that online tools are proving to be just as effective in helping college students combat anxiety. The study evaluated Therapy Assisted Online (TAO), an interactive program that Curry College rolled out to students last year to help them address common issues related to anxiety or depression. It provides resources and tools that support healthy coping skills. Accessible 24/7 from any device, students can watch engaging videos, complete exercises, and meet with a counselor via videoconferencing for a consultation by appointment with the Counseling Center.
“By integrating TAO, we have expanded our mental health options for students while also encouraging them to grow in their independence and self-reliance,” she says. “TAO provides students with a library of more than 150 interactive sessions on everything from stress management to relationship skills. It also offers an anonymous self-help model, which has allowed students to access important information about mental health and coping skills. We’ve seen great success in their connection with these resources.”
Since the beginning of the fall semester, the Office of Wellness has also led Wellness Weeks, where students have opportunities to engage in both (socially-distanced) in-person and virtual events. Fitness classes, Meditation Mondays, affirmation jars, yoga, and a Spiritual Life meet and greet are only a few of the latest events. The six-week initiative spans the six dimensions of wellness (social, physical, intellectual, spiritual, occupational, and emotional) to help students make informed decisions on keeping a healthy lifestyle. Topics include alcohol and drug use, stress management, sexual health, healthy relationships, body image, and more.
In addition to a large number of resources available online, including a mental health screening quiz, self-help videos, a list of wellness mobile apps, and quick tips on common college problems, the Counseling Center recently launched an Instagram page to provide timely educational resources to students, including how to manage COVID-19 stress. The Center also offers resources for parents and encourages families to engage with the counselors on campus. “What we’ve always done and are happy to continue to do, is to connect with parents and offer a consultation to help them understand how we can work together to support their student,” says Dr. Markson.
Yet, even as the mental health and wellness initiatives at the College continue to expand at 1016 Brush Hill Road, where Wellness Education and the Counseling Center are located, Dr. Markson credits the entire campus community for supporting students through their personal and academic challenges.
“Each year, mental health continues to be an area of concern among our faculty, staff, and administrators. This echoes national trends at colleges and universities, nationwide. I’m impressed with the amount of time and attention that so many colleagues at Curry dedicate to these issues and how they are impacting our students,” she says. “From Public Safety, the Dean of Students Office to Residence Life and Housing, we’re committed to ensuring our students know the resources available to them and can take steps to take charge of their psychological wellness, whether it is through our clinical services, self-help or other resources.”