ST. LOUIS — So often we think of college students as having little reason to worry. They’re on campus. They’re surrounded by friends and activities. They are living what we call “the best years of their lives.” But the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown so many for a loop, especially now, nearly two years in.
The memories of how it started remain visceral.
"My sophomore year," recalled Maryville University senior Marissa Jones, "we had just taken a spring break trip to New Orleans, and as soon as we got back off the bus, it was, ‘School is shutting down. Pack up. Head home.’”
But as the two-year mark approaches, the challenges of COVID-19 - and its impact on their mental health - remain.
“If you think about it," Jones said, "we’re juggling life. We’re juggling friendships and also school and work as well.”
Fellow Maryville senior Reid Coyle added, "There's a whole new branch of anxiety."
In a new survey, 70% of college students say they’re experiencing distress and anxiety because of the pandemic. More than half claimed they’re more stressed now than they were a year ago.
“It got me to a depression stage," said Maryville senior Nidal Yasir. "I’ve never felt depressed before, and this was the first time I’d actually felt depressed. And I did not know what to do. I would come to campus. And after class, I wouldn’t feel like talking to anybody. So, I would just go home."
Yasir's mother recommended therapy. He tried it out and found it helped. Now, as president of his university's student government, he says he's working to ensure the school does everything it to educate its students about getting help.
"Even prior to the pandemic, universities nationwide were seeing huge increases in numbers with depression and anxiety and suicidal thoughts," said Jennifer Henry, the director of the school's counseling center. “People forget that college students are barely adults. They think they’re doing fine, that they can handle things on their own. But really college is a time when students are expected to branch out and be spontaneous. They’re having this experience but in such a different way.”
“With a lot of colleges," Jones said, "it’s not even brought up. It’s not talked about. And students have to protest or bring awareness to it as much as they can, but it’s getting ignored, unfortunately.”
A study found that 8 out of 9 college students say there is a mental health crisis on college campuses. Maryville offered a mental health day for students. They’re instructing all faculty members on how to address mental health issues. Colleges nationwide are introducing programs virtually and on campus.
“A lot of students may not need therapy specifically," Henry said. "They just need someone to ask them how they’re doing, and help them problem-solve, which is something any of us can do.”
If you or someone you know might be in need of mental health services, check out Maryville's list of mental health resources for college students.