Anxiety and stress are common reactions when we are faced with uncertainty and fear about our own safety or the safety of our loved ones. Not knowing how long the pandemic will last adds to this anxiety. Various restrictions placed on our lives takes away from our sense of control and results in feelings of frustration and anger. And it is common to feel grief over lost opportunities and milestone events, and emotional isolation due to social distancing and staying home.
While everyone is impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in some way, certain student groups are particularly vulnerable. Many of our students fall into one or more of these categories:
- International students: Increased social stigma have led to acts of harassment against people of Asian descent. Some individuals may feel afraid, uncomfortable, or unsafe to go outside or seek medical services. Many international students are also unable to go back to their home countries and are separated from their families.
- Students of color: Existing inequity across race and income means some students have access to less financial and educational resources at home.
- First generation students: First generation students might be living at home where there is little understanding and support for online education from their family or lack of technology and resources. A lack of in-person mentoring and support on campus might make it extra challenging for them to maintain their motivation or ability to persist.
- LGBTQIA+ students: LGBTQIA+ students may have returned to their family home where they feel like they must hide their identity and do not feel supported. They may also feel separated from the support networks they established at USU.
- Students dealing with domestic violence: As our communities are directed to social distance and stay at home, victims may be trapped at home with their abusers, with an increasing risk of violence.
- Students with children: Many students with young children now struggle to secure uninterrupted time for studying. A lack of privacy also makes it more difficult for these students to participate in videoconference meetings. These students may also be unable to work at this time or find childcare to do so.
- Students with resource insecurities: Even prior to the pandemic, one-third of USU students said they experienced food insecurity. Those who have returned to family homes do not have access to USU’s SNAC pantry. Lower income students may also not have the technology or the Internet connection bandwidth needed for online learning, or even a quiet personal space to study.
- Students with pre-existing mental illness: The current situation may exacerbate symptoms of psychiatric conditions such as depression and anxiety. Social distancing, while helpful for slowing the spread of COVID-19, may lead to increased feelings of isolation and depression.
- Students with disabilities: New online class materials may present new challenges and new accommodations must be made. Students might not have access to a distraction-free testing setting.
Indicators of Distress
We often rely on cues from direct interactions to detect distress in students. A lack of in-person connections makes it harder to stay tuned to their degree of well-being, but some of the same distress cues are still available during online interactions.
- A sudden decline in academic performance.
- Multiple missed assignments.
- Disclosure of personal distress in course chats, assignments, and private emails.
- Disturbing contents or distressing themes in assignments (e.g., violence, death, hopelessness, rage, isolation, suicide ideation).
Ways to support student mental wellness
You might be the only direct connection many students have with the university now, and you can help them understand it is normal to struggle in the current situation and find coping tools.
- Periodically check in with students to see how they are doing.
- Provide information about resources and coping strategies to promote mental wellness.
- Consult with CAPS about students you are concerned about
- Add self-care tips to lecture materials, and model self-compassion and self-care
- Check in privately if you become concerned about a particular student, and validate their experiences and feelings.
- Help them set realistic expectations that fit the current circumstances.
- Be understanding of unique stressors experienced by more vulnerable students.
- If you are concerned about a student's well-being, report a student of concern to Student Affairs.