By Kylie Stoltzfus
As students make their way back to campus after nearly a year, the state of student mental health is continually in flux.
According to Mental Health America, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting mental wellbeing, over 2.5 million young people in the United States have experienced severe depression. In 2019, nearly 50 million Americans experienced mental illness. According to a statistic published by Johns Hopkins, approximately 26% of Americans over the age of 18 experience a diagnosable mental illness. That is a total of 1 in 4 adults in the United States experiencing a mental disorder. According to Johns Hopkins, 9.5% of adults will suffer from a depressive illness in any given year. It gets worse. “While major depression can develop at any age, the average age at onset is the mid-20s,” according to Johns Hopkins. These are sobering statistics, inevitably exacerbated by a global pandemic.
We chatted with the folks who are addressing student mental health concerns on a daily basis and who serve as the university’s first defense for providing resources and support to students who may be experiencing mental health challenges.
Lauren Blevins is a nurse practitioner in Health Services at Millersville University. Blevins emphasized that the resources available through Health Services expand far beyond COVID precaution and mitigation. Amidst the pandemic, Health Services continued to evaluate and treat students who were experiencing mental health concerns, acute illness and general injuries. According to Blevins, mental health visits rank in the top three most common reasons students visit Health Services.
“We encourage students to seek help. It’s okay to not be okay. There are resources on campus that can help you. You are never alone in this,” said Blevins. “Overall, we are hearing an overwhelming excitement from students to be back on campus and have a return to face-to-face instruction. Although students are excited about the return to some [semblance] of ‘normal,’ some have shared that this return has caused some increased stress and anxiety.”
Blevins says her team has worked hard to provide quality healthcare to the Millersville community despite the challenges presented by the unfolding pandemic. Blevins expressed the challenge Health Services has faced since the beginning of the pandemic in February 2020.
“For a small staff, we make a big impact [on] the health of our community. I feel privileged to work with such a talented and caring group of health care professionals,” Blevins said. “When the campus closed, we remained open and continued to provide care to our students,” Blevins said. “We worked quickly to provide student access to COVID testing here on campus. Our staff [was] impacted physically, as nearly half of our staff [became] infected with COVID during the course of the pandemic.”
Blevins recognizes that students may be overwhelmed while adapting to the return to campus. Students may be overstimulated by consistent social interaction after a prolonged amount of time away from school. Blevins encourages students to take advantage of the various support systems that are available on campus including the Health Center’s close collaborator, the Counseling Center.
Millersville University’s Counseling Center is equipped to provide emotional support to students through its various onsite counselors, pet therapy events, the availability of lightbox therapy, peer support groups and additional resources to assist with educating students on mindfulness and managing personal wellness.
***We interviewed Andrea Baker, Secretary in the Counseling Center and Joseph Lynch, Department Chair of Millersville’s Counseling and Human Development program. Baker and Lynch answered our questions on behalf of the Counseling Center.
“We can all experience many stressors in an academic setting from time to time. There are many resources available at the University to assist students with schedules, priorities, relationships, testing accommodations, etc.” stated the Counseling Center. “The key is to reach out and ask for help.”
According to Baker and Lynch, the start of the fall semester has been one of the busiest seasons in the history of the Counseling Center.
“COVID brought with it many uncertainties regarding health and this has certainly affected the emotional health of our students. Now that the University has opened to students being back on campus and taking in-person classes, we have been seeing more students here in the office.”
The Counseling Center is seeing that students are struggling to navigate balance in their lives now that we are becoming busier as COVID restrictions are lifted. The Counseling Center has both in-person and virtual services available to accommodate student schedules and comfort levels in light of COVID.
“The ‘state of student mental health’ on campus is similar to the rest of the country,” the Counseling Center stated. “Students are working to succeed academically while managing some very real-life circumstances that include dealing with depression, anxiety, substance abuse, relationship/family concerns and other mental health issues. Millersville is no exception and our students face all of these challenges as well.
If you are struggling with mental health and wellbeing this semester, you are not alone. There are resources and systems in place to provide support to any student who may be experiencing a difficult transition back to campus life.
Consider visiting Health Services to address physical and emotional health concerns; Learning Services or Academic Advisement to find support for academic challenges and to request accommodations; Center for Health Education and Promotion for education on mental health and personal wellness; Title IX for concerns related to harassment and discrimination; and University Police for any concerns with campus safety.
The past two years have been extremely taxing and challenging for students, families and communities alike. Know that you are not alone with the challenges and struggles students are experiencing as we make the return to campus.