It Takes A Campus: Pandemic Expands Mental Health Resources…… | News and reports
Before the pandemic, Meghan Becker was meeting with five to seven students in crisis a week. As the director of the CARE team at Baylor University, it’s her job to connect them with the right professionals and resources to address a range of issues, such as suicidal thoughts, depression, stress, drug use or other disturbing behaviors.
The number of students who come to see her doubled, then tripled in the fall of 2021.
“I feel like a care and compassion machine,” Becker said, after a week this semester where she saw 19 students in a row.
His team at the Waco, Texas campus began taking two work-from-home days a week to help protect their own mental health and workload while bearing the brunt of student hardships during the pandemic.
The dramatic spike in mental health issues amid the spread of COVID-19 has overwhelmed Christian college counselors and chaplains across the country. But this moment has also led to a better understanding of the burdens students carry and more resources on campus to help them.
A growing number of students felt strained before March 2020, but once the coronavirus hit – bringing fear, stress, loneliness and an unknown trajectory for the future – schools saw record demands for psychological support. Many remote options have been added, sometimes even 24/7 availability, to meet student needs.
A year and a half into the pandemic, campus staff are managing the increased demand for counseling requests as more students returned in person this fall.
Baylor’s CARE team has seen a 110% increase in counseling cases during the pandemic. Student counseling appointments increased 73% at Biola University in La Mirada, California.
In an informal survey of leaders at 32 schools belonging to the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), two-thirds said demand for mental health services had increased during the pandemic, while an even higher number ( 78%) saw signs of student distress such as struggle with class work, participation and attendance.
Rates of anxiety and depression among college students have been rising for several years. A 2019 briefing by psychologists from John Brown, Pepperdine, George Fox, Corban and Taylor universities found that “the number of students seeking counseling appointments has increased by an average of 30%, five times the average rate of enrollment growth.
The panel described how increased anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation in small Christian colleges had a noticeable effect on the entire campus, not only on individual students, but also on friends, classmates and the teachers around them.
“On residential campuses that celebrate the interdependence of ‘community,'” they write, “the impact permeates virtually everything.”
COVID-19 has also dealt a disproportionate blow to these close-knit Christian campuses, which have been separated in their suffering by social distancing and screens.
A survey by the National College Health Association showed that the mental state of students had worsened as the pandemic continued, with 41% of students reporting moderate to severe levels of psychological distress in 2020 and 51% in 2021.
The rise in demand for mental health support on Christian campuses has corresponded to recent challenges of longstanding evangelical stigmas around mental health. In recent years, discussions about depression, anxiety, and self-care have come to the fore even more.
“Unfortunately, some churches have a perfectionism that makes this talk a little threatening,” said Eric Johnson, a professor at the Gideon Institute of Christian Psychology and Counseling at Houston Baptist University. “They want people to always be positive and trust Jesus, and I think they unfortunately interpret that to mean you don’t have anxiety or depression.”
Johnson noted that he has seen some churches he works with become more open to the realities of mental health issues as a result of COVID-19.
Professors at Christian colleges have also had more opportunities to respond to student mental health issues as they arise during the pandemic.
Attending classes remotely, as some students did in 2020, came with its own set of challenges. Now that they are back in class, academics may feel more stressed. The Class of 2025 — who started college this semester — haven’t had a COVID-19-free school year since 10th grade. This reality has changed the way they view education and the kinds of accommodations and interactions they expect from their instructors.
“Student expectations will eventually play a bigger role, and those expectations should inform how the learning elements we have redesigned in response to COVID-19 are normalizing at our colleges and universities,” a community college president wrote in a Inside Higher Education piece on lasting changes to emerge from the pandemic. “We must commit to being more attentive to our students and meeting them better where they are.
Becker at Baylor encouraged faculty and staff to “pay attention to the student as a whole, not just someone sitting in their chair” and acknowledge how they are feeling.
“Just because they don’t show up and turn in their work doesn’t mean they’re necessarily lazy,” she said. “It most likely means they are depressed.”
Baylor’s Counseling Center, faced with increased demand, has launched an online platform where students can connect with psychiatrists, dieticians and medical professionals at any time.
Students may also be hesitant to seek mental health support on a Christian campus if they fear their condition may be attributed to a lack of faith. Paige Hagy, a junior at King’s College, had shunned school resources due to previous experiences with Christian therapists.
“When you go to a Bible counselor, a lot of what they’re going to ask you is, ‘How often do you read your Bible? What are your prayer habits? said Paige Hagy, a student at King’s College. She had avoided school counseling resources due to previous experiences with Christian therapists.
“How can we try to minister healing to the physical side, and how can we also try to provide spiritual help and keep the two in tension?” asked Jess Weary, student and senior chaplaincy coordinator at Wheaton College. “It’s something the church is slowly growing in our ability to do well, imperfectly, but striving to recognize the and instead of Who.”
Of course, spiritual support is also important for students in crisis. In the 2019 report from campus psychologists, alongside concerns about suicide spikes and understaffing, the panel lamented the “lack of faith integration” in Christian colleges and universities.
“There is a lack of biblical knowledge that prevents some students from recognizing Him who reveals Himself as Creator, Redeemer and Friend,” they wrote. “Tragically, our modern age has virtually no understanding or appreciation of a theology of suffering. The loss of such a meta-narrative leads to an existential crisis for many of our students. We need to restore a theological vision of hope that recognizes that God is in control and actively engaged in our lives, even in the midst of suffering.
During the pandemic, Wheaton’s chaplaincy program wanted to make God’s presence known to students who were going through a difficult time. The team focused on prayer and availability; during the 2020-2021 school year, they toured the halls of residence four times, knocking on doors and offering prayer, tea and cookies to students.
“A lot of students were coping with the weight of isolation in different ways, whether it was in quarantine specifically or because of the nature of the year, of doing college in the middle of a pandemic,” Blake said. Chaput, senior chaplain and student. coordinator at Wheaton.
Students often have the best pulse on how they and their classmates are doing. Azusa Pacific University has launched a peer educator program for undergraduates to promote mental wellness among their classmates for internship credit, board director Lori Lacy told CCCU.
At King’s College, there was “no shortage” of students who wanted to see a counselor during the pandemic, according to Hagy. Undergraduate students formed a new organization this fall to discuss issues such as anxiety, depression, stress, suicidal ideation and eating disorders.
Third-year student Neidín Shelnutt, vice-president of the new organization, called ‘The Mend’, said her experience with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression motivated her to create the club to shed some light on what students like her are. go through.
Shelnutt’s mental health has suffered since she was in a car accident during her senior year in high school.
“People couldn’t really understand that [trauma], and it was an awkward thing to bring up,” she said. “But as soon as I could verbalize those things, people were so welcoming and kind, and that’s what I want King to be.”
Shelnutt and co-founder Aidan Kurth, president of the group, plan to hold monthly sessions, each focusing on a different mental health condition, where the group will present information and resources about the condition and open a discussion for students share their own experiences with him.
The Mend first met on November 30, just weeks before the fall semester finals. The session focused on generalized anxiety disorder and attracted a handful of students.
“Awareness of mental health issues has increased dramatically, as has the church’s understanding that we should and can be a safe place to talk about it.” said Kara Powell, director of leadership training at Fuller Seminary and executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute. “I want families, churches and Christian ministries to be the greenhouses where students can first talk about their issues and get the support they need.”
Powell said transparency from leaders about their own mental health issues makes a difference. Teachers and pastors cannot replace the professional help or medical care that students may need, but they can have a positive effect by sympathizing with students’ concerns and modeling their own willingness to seek help and to practice self-care.
Lacy at Azusa Pacific made a similar point in remarks to CCCU magazine, referring to mental health training through human resources. “We give teachers a language to use, like ‘I feel how difficult this is for you. I’ve felt that before. I found it helpful to go talk to someone about it.
Helen Huiskes is a freelance writer and editor-in-chief of Recording of Wheaton.
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