COVID-19 and Student Behavioral Health: Staying Connected and Supportive

COVID-19 and Student Behavioral Health:  Staying Connected and Supportive

By: Robert Meenan, M.D., Christie Campus Health President

American colleges and universities have taken a leadership role in responding to the COVID-19 crisis. By emptying classrooms and dormitories, US higher education has sent a valuable message about the important role of social distancing in our nation’s response to the pandemic. Social distancing is critical to slowing the spread of the virus, flattening the curve of cases, and allowing the health care system to better manage the severely ill. Taken together these benefits of social distancing will help reduce the death rate.

Unfortunately, the spread of the COVID-19 virus and the social distancing of students have both contributed to a further increase in student behavioral health concerns. A group that was already experiencing an epidemic of anxiety and depression is now even more anxious and depressed as it has to simultaneously deal with a viral pandemic and a fundamental disruption of their college experience. Students are worried about getting sick and about transmitting the virus to older family members. They are worried about completing courses and earning credits. They may also have new concerns about food and shelter.

College counseling centers, which were already working hard to address rising student demand for services, now face a uniquely challenging situation. They need to continue providing behavioral health services to enrolled students when most of those students are no longer on campus. Schools with large study abroad programs face additional challenges in servicing students in foreign countries. 

The use of technology to provide behavioral health services has been steadily expanding over the past few years.  The COVID-19 pandemic and the social distancing of college students are a “perfect storm” scenario that sends a clear signal to colleges that they need to rapidly expand their use of behavioral health technology.  Those technologies include 24/7/365 phone support, online CBT training, and telehealth counseling capacities. Modern students increasingly expect colleges to have such services. Highly distressed and widely dispersed students really need their colleges to have them.

With greater use of technology college counseling staff can better maintain connections with their students during this challenging time, and students can continue to receive support via digital channels despite not being on campus.

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