How Are College and Current Events Affecting Your Mental Health?
With universities closing around the country and moving to online study, young adults in college and graduate school alike have found themselves adrift. The physical and mental health concerns and financial difficulties brought by the current events have not spared secondary education students. In addition, there are a number of unique challenges facing students during this time.
Students who were struggling financially may find that their federal Work Study positions have been placed on hold for the time being — and thanks to the current crisis, off-campus jobs are no longer an option. Graduates in the Class of 2020 have had graduations canceled, depriving them and their families of the opportunity to celebrate the culmination of years of hard work. And students with academic challenges, such as those who are first-generation college students or suffer from learning disabilities, are no longer able to access on-campus resources to help them ace their classes, meaning their GPAs may suffer.
Unsurprisingly, the stress of being a student during a global pandemic takes its toll on an individual’s mental health — and virtually no students have been spared given the difficulties faced during this unprecedented situation. In this article, we explore some of the various challenges facing students and their mental health at this time, as well as how schools and students are managing these difficulties.
Struggling Students in 2020
Undoubtedly, every student is facing their own set of unique challenges right now — but while many students view the current set of healthcare events as a surmountable obstacle in their higher education journey, other students fear for their futures. The primary concern offers an opportunity to examine the role of privilege in the secondary education experience, illuminating the unique challenges facing first-generation and low-income college students.
Many schools serving low-income students must think harder about how to surmount the online migration of secondary education. Their students may not be able to afford to leave campus, despite the fact that on-campus academic and mental health resources are closed. Students depending on Work Study jobs for income can no longer count on their weekly paychecks, and may not be able to find off-campus employment given the surge of closings.
But perhaps the most overwhelming challenge faced by these schools is the lack of access to the internet that low-income students may face. Students who depended on coffee shops for access to WiFi or on public libraries for the use of a computer can no longer use these resources to access online classes. Even students with older devices may find them now crashing due to the increased use of applications like Powerpoint and Zoom. So, how do colleges support students in their online education when many of them cannot get online?
Some schools are overcoming these obstacles with organized support. Arrupe College, an institution with 80 percent of its students eligible for federal Pell Grants, found out through a poll that most of its students did not have WiFi access at home, and solved the issue by rushing wireless devices to all of its students. Other schools are depending on college students’ own resourcefulness, hoping that students will find ways to surmount obstacles on their own — for example, replacing old, slow-running devices with newer ones from loaner laptop programs.
When Going Home Isn’t a Good Thing
Universities around the country have closed on-campus housing, such as dormitories and apartment buildings, in the hopes of protecting their students. As a result, students everywhere have gone home to their families to study online. But what happens when students are sent home to living situations that are less than ideal?
It’s important for colleges to recognize that not all students may have a home to go back to in the first place. Homeless students are reeling from the closures of dormitories, as well as public institutions they depended on, such as public libraries (for computers and Internet access) and recreation centers (for bathrooms and hot showers). Additionally, students who depended on an on-campus meal plan for access to healthy meals may find themselves unable to reliably access food while homeless during this crisis.
Some schools are solving this problem by keeping dormitories and dining halls open to students with no other place to stay. However, this may not be an option for every student. Many students’ living situations force them to couch surf, “double up” with other families for housing or stay in hotels or motels. Homeless shelters are not without their risks, either, as the first death of a New York City shelter resident from this illnexss proves. As Next100 writes, “‘shelter in place’ only works when students and families have a shelter in the first place” — making the current crisis an especially grueling time for these students and their families.
There’s also the challenge presented by students who are sent home to abusive or neglectful families. An important example comes from the LGBTQ+ student population, many of whom are now stuck in living situations that are uncomfortable and even unsafe. Students who are transgender or non-binary may be forced to live with family members who misgender them, raising the risk of dysphoria and mental health issues that stem from those feelings. Other students, who are exploring their identity but not “out” to their families, might be taking gender and sexuality courses in secret — a secret that becomes threatened by online course discussions that can be heard through thin walls and textbooks sitting out on bedroom desks.
On-campus LGBTQ+ student centers are a critical resource for many of these students. As a result, many of these centers are trying to stay open for business virtually — but not every student may feel safe accessing these resources from home. Some parents may be overly watchful of their students’ online activities, while others may face outright violence and abuse related to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Still others may be forced to log into online platforms that use their legal names, or deadnames, that no longer match their gender identity. This raises an important issue for LGBTQ+ students, who are already more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts than other student populations. LGBTQ+ centers on some campuses report that a few students have been sent to mental health facilities, while others have been fortunate enough to find alternative housing through college-based resources.
Event Cancelations: Graduations, Athletics and More
While less grim, perhaps the most widespread mental health challenge posed to college campuses is the cancelation of important events in students’ lives. Adults are no stranger to this challenge, either, with some required to hold funerals via Skype or Zoom, while others have been forced to postpone otherwise joyful occasions like weddings or reunions. For college students, these cancelations include important athletic or academic events in students’ lives — and for many members of the Class of 2020, even their commencement ceremonies.
Students may be understandably sad or angry about the cancelation of such events in their lives. Some student athletes may have spent years training for important competitions, only to find that those competitions have been canceled. Students trying to find jobs after graduation are not only faced with poor prospects but also the cancelation of career fairs, networking events and other activities that could have improved their chances of becoming employed. And, of course, let’s not forget graduation — which for many, represents the culmination of four-to-eight years of hard work and sacrifice. Now, these students may no longer be able to don a cap and gown to walk across the stage for their diploma, with many schools opting instead for online ceremonies or the cancelation of ceremonies altogether.
These cancelations pose unique mental health challenges to students, many of whom may feel selfish or cruel to mourn something as globally insignificant as a mock trial competition or senior formal. As Monica Chin writes for The Verge, students are judging each other harshly, uttering phrases like, “How could you care about college debate when people are dying?” But though we all recognize the importance of canceling these events for our physical health, our mental health may be suffering as we mourn the consequences of missing out on important life events.
Even if these milestones don’t matter to everyone, they matter to students — and these students must be told that it’s okay for them to be sad about their circumstances. In fact, denying ourselves the healthy emotional responses of sadness or anger about such events may be harmful to our mental health. According to The Verge, a UC Berkeley study found that people who allow negative emotions to run their course are less likely to develop mood disorders than those who deny or resist these feelings. In other words, feeling bad about feeling bad can actually make students feel worse. It’s important, then, for us to recognize that disappointment, grief and frustration in these situations is a natural, healthy and even productive response to the cancelation of events that mattered to us.
Are You a Student Struggling with Your Mental Health Right Now?
If you are a student and you recognize yourself in any of the descriptions in this post or are merely suffering from the emotional consequences of current events, know that you are not alone. Students everywhere are facing unprecedented challenges — but that does not mean that what you feel is inconsequential. Talking to a trained counselor can help you process your emotions regarding event cancelations, unsafe living situations and more due to the way the world is changing rapidly. Contact us today to find out how The Meadowglade’s trained counselors can help you!