The Damage of the Pandemic to Higher Education and Student Health

The coronavirus pandemic is currently surging in many parts of the U.S. Just as cooler weather, the flu season and the holidays approach, COVID-19 is killing over 800 Americans per day, and case counts are reaching new peaks in some states. We have heard a good deal about the pandemic’s economic impact on businesses, especially in the hospitality and airline industries. Another consequence is its impact on higher education – an impact that threatens student health and the future of millions of students. Many of the responses of higher education administrators have sent chilling messages to students, parents, and prospective students.

Impact on Higher Education

The coronavirus is forcing colleges and universities – large and small, famous, and not-so-well-known – to dramatically cut academic programs, student services, and lay off employees. Even Harvard University with its massive endowment has not been immune to the belt tightening. Cost estimates run into the hundreds of billions of dollars of lost revenue or additional costs to colleges and universities across in the U.S. In the spring of 2020, when most Americans thought the coronavirus might be under control in a matter of weeks, colleges began softer cost-cutting measures such as offering early retirements and implementing hiring freezes. But given the persistence of the pandemic, those measure proved to be much too little. Across the country more drastic cost saving measures are taking place. These include laying off employees (even tenured faculty, an anathema in academia), delaying graduate admissions, eliminating entire departments and degree programs, and reducing student support services. In some cases, entire colleges are vanishing as they are consolidated into other institutions. Over 300,000 jobs in higher education have been lost according the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Wave of Belt-Tightening

This wave of belt-tightening in 2020 comes in the midst of a longstanding relatively quiet recession in higher education. This financial crisis has been going on for years and has been brought on by reductions in State and Federal support for higher education, by decreasing enrollments, and by increasing student concerns about skyrocketing tuition and burdensome student debt. (Average student debt is now around $33,000 and much higher for graduate and professional students.) In response, many systems, like the University System of Georgia, were already closing and consolidating public colleges even before the coronavirus first arrived in the U.S. on January 20, 2020.

Student Health Needs More Attention

Too often in financial crises, businesses and institutions give too little attention to the wellbeing of stakeholders by their employees or in this case, students. The enduring coronavirus pandemic has only made a bad situation worse. Colleges’ costs for new safety measures have cost them millions. Students and parents have been reluctant to pay the same or nearly the same tuition for online classes. Freshmen enrollment is down 16% from 2019 as some students take a gap year or pursue other plans. Other students have sought out lower cost educational options.

Pandemic Affecting Social Change

Traditionally, higher education has been the linchpin for social mobility in the U.S. for lower income and poor students. But the pandemic is also affecting that avenue for social change. Some of these students seem to have given up on higher education, at least for now. This is reflected in an 8% reduction in awards of federal Pell Grants in 2020. These are educational funds given to deserving poor and lower income students to help them learn marketable skills and obtain undergraduate degrees or certifications.

What it Means for Student Health

It seems likely that the pandemic will be with us at least well into 2021, an almost unimaginable outcome in the spring of 2020 when quarantines and lockdowns began. As institutions of higher education continue their rounds of budget revisions and cuts, how will those decisions affect services that support the wellbeing of students? To what extent will decision makers take the wellbeing of vulnerable students into consideration? Will advocates of student health be included in the decisions? Will administrators make sure that their decisions sensitively recognize and address the mental health and wellbeing of their students? Will they recognize the enormous stress experienced by students – even in the best of times? Are they mindful that among traditional college age students that suicide is already the second leading cause of death, and that suicides almost invariably involve an untreated, poorly treated, or completely undetected emotional conditions?

Administrators Focus on Services to Support Student Health

I encourage administrators to revisit their Student Assistance Programs (SAP), campus counseling center services, and other services that support student health and wellbeing. In doing so, they should look for creative, proactive, cost-effective solutions to support, engage, and assist students in their wellbeing. Not doing so communicates another distressing message to students and parents.

About the Author

Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, NCAC II is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr. For over 30 years, Norman has practiced in mental health, substance misuse, and EAP settings. He has also worked in leadership positions in both public and private sector behavioral health organizations. An author of four books, he is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional.

Sources

Nothing off limits…

NY Times

Shawn Hubler

Oct 26, 2020

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/26/us/colleges-coronavirus-budget-cuts.html

 

See 10 Years of Average Total Student Loan Debt

US News and World Report

Emma Kerr

Sept 15, 2020

https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/paying-for-college/articles/see-how-student-loan-borrowing-has-risen-in-10-years

About Espyr

For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching and consulting solutions help people and organizations achieve their full potential by providing mental health support and driving positive behavioral change.  For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

COVID-19 Pandemic and College Life: What Colleges Can Do to Address Student Mental Health Needs

COVID-19 has created a profound effect on all aspects collegiate life and especially on student mental health. It has brought upon a multitude of social, psychological, and safety challenges for students, on top of the high levels of stress that college students are already facing – even in the best of times. For many, the transition from campus life to remote learning has called for many academic, social, and personal changes for most college students – testing students’ ability to cope with change. It is important that colleges and universities continue to monitor and assess the mental health of students as the nation continues to progress through changes.

Here are recommendations scholars who study student mental health recently made on how schools should address the mental health challenges for students brought on by the pandemic.

Continue student advising via telecommunication means. Expand virtual office hours to create easy access for students who are experiencing the normal stress of college life in addition to the irregular learning environment brought about by COVID-19.

Reduce student stress. By taking a creative and flexible approach to Internship opportunities given the new environment.

Help students adapt research projects to the new normal environments. Encourage university career centers to adopt virtual services to assist students in the economic downturn.

University counseling centers should set up options to continue providing college students with counseling services at a distance (i.e., tele mental health counseling). Tele mental health has been found effective in treating anxiety and depressive symptoms and implementing tele mental health will facilitate the delivery of counseling services to address students’ pressing mental health concerns.

• University counseling centers should also provide options for students to join online support groups that enable them to share common concerns and receive social support. Further, university counseling centers and other departments should develop and pass public health messaging onto students, sharing coping resources, and encouraging them to take action to protect their mental health and wellbeing.

 

About the Author

Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, NCAC II is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr. For over 30 years, Norman has practiced in mental health, substance misuse, and EAP settings. He has also worked in leadership positions in both public and private sector behavioral health organizations. An author of four books, he is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional.

 

Source

Addressing collegiate mental health needs amid COVID-19 pandemic

Psychiatry Res. 2020 Jun; 288: 113003.

Published online 2020 Apr 17. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2020.113003

PMCID: PMC7162776

PMID: 32315885

Yusen Zhaia,? and Xue Dub

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7162776/

 

About Espyr

For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized coaching solutions help employers reduce healthcare costs by identifying and addressing employee mental health issues before they require more expensive, long term care. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

College Students – A Vulnerable Population for Suicide and Mental Health Issues

September is suicide awareness month. One alarming aspect of suicide is its frequency among young people, particularly college students. Defined as self-injurious behavior aimed at causing one’s death, suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people. Annually about 1,000 college students take their own lives. Thousands of their family members are affected by these deaths. Fellow students and faculty are traumatized, and campus life is disrupted. Thousands more commit non-fatal acts of self-harm to deal with extreme emotional pain.

September is also a month when all of America’s colleges and universities are back in session with in-person classes, virtual classes, or some combination of the two. Many continue to offer non-traditional, exclusively on-line programs of study for students who can earn degrees entirely via on-line instruction. But for many traditional college students in their late teens and early twenties returning to college is an emotional adjustment and challenge to their wellbeing. Many of these young people are often away from home, family, and friends for the first time – losing connection to the emotional support system they have known all their lives. They’re living with strangers, in a new setting, and working under intense pressure to achieve. Many have had limited experience with the new autonomy that comes with college life. Autonomy that also brings easier access to alcohol and illegal drugs, and new peer pressure. Their ability to adjust to change is challenged. Their interpersonal skills are tested as they develop a new social support system. They must learn to manage stress in this new environment while often coping with loneliness. They do all this with disrupted sleeping, eating, and exercise patterns. Now add in COVID-19. One can hardly imagine a more stressful situation for young people with limited life experience. This adjustment is made much more difficult for about one-fifth of students – those with some underlying mental health or substance abuse condition.

Obviously, college students are a vulnerable population. Vulnerable for suicide as proven by their high rate of death from that cause. But also vulnerable for mental health and substance abuse conditions in general. Especially so during the COVID-19 pandemic with its unusual and additional stresses. College administrators realize their responsibility for student’s mental health and safety but are faced with the dual challenge of reduced budgets and implementing COVID-19 precautions. What can they do to improve student access to mental health and preventative services and to ensure students’ wellbeing? Here are some suggestions:

  • Survey students and parents. Ask them about their mental health issues, needs, and expectations for campus support.
  • Provide accessible campus wellness activities. Activities that build resilience in students and normalize mental health on par with physical health.
  • Provide easy access to behavioral health screening services. Ones that also provide easy access to counselors.
  • Review on-campus student counseling center’s services, hours of operation, and accessibility. Is there a “waiting list” for services? Is 24/7 access to a counselor available for students with urgent needs? Are services being delivered in culturally competent way?
  • Train students, faculty, administrators, staff, and campus police in mental health first aid.
  • Offer a comprehensive suicide awareness and prevention program for students.
  • Engage rising first-year student early on with supportive services. Services that help him/her bridge the social and emotional transition from high school to college.
  • Include mental health of students in on-line educational programs. (There are about 500 nationally.) Do these students have equal access to your institution’s mental health services? Are their unique needs being addressed?
  • If you have fiduciary responsibilities for student and faculty health and wellbeing, examine your own attitudes and beliefs about sensitive issues like mental health, suicide, and emotional wellbeing. Make sure you recognize your own biases (it’s okay, we all have biases) and recognize how they influence your actions.

 

About the Author

Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, NCAC II is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr. For over 30 years, Norman has practiced in mental health, substance misuse, and EAP settings. He has also worked in leadership positions in both public and private sector behavioral health organizations. An author of four books, he is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional.

 

Sources

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, June 24–30, 2020

https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6932a1.htm?s_cid=mm6932a1_w

Peterson C, Sussell A, Li J, Schumacher PK, Yeoman K, Stone DM. Suicide Rates by Industry and Occupation — National Violent Death Reporting System, 32 States, 2016. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020; 69:57–62. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6903a1external icon.

Suicide is the Second Leading Cause of Death Among College Students

https://www.safecolleges.com/suicide-second-highest-cause-of-death-among-college-students/

National Center For Education Statistics

https://nces.ed.gov/ccd/tables/201314_Virtual_Schools_table_3.asp

 

About Espyr

For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized coaching solutions help employers reduce healthcare costs by identifying and addressing employee mental health issues before they require more expensive, long term care. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

The Rise in College Suicides: How to Protect Our Young

September is Suicide Awareness Month. One alarming aspect of suicide is its frequency among young people, particularly college students. Defined as self-injurious behavior aimed at causing one’s death, suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people. According to the American College Health Association (ACHA), the suicide rate among young adults ages 15–24 has tripled since the 1950s. Annually about 1,000 college students take their own lives. Thousands of their family members are affected by these deaths. Fellow students and faculty are traumatized, and campus life is disrupted. Thousands more commit non-fatal acts of self-harm to deal with extreme emotional pain.

Suicide among young adults has tripled since the 1950’s

Student Life Brings Many Challenges

September is also a month when all of America’s colleges and universities are back in session with in-person classes, virtual classes or some combination of the two. Many continue to offer non-traditional, exclusively online programs of study for students who can earn degrees entirely via online instruction.

But for many traditional college students in their late teens and early twenties returning to college is an emotional adjustment and challenge to their wellbeing. Many of these young people are often away from home, family and friends for the first time – losing connection to the emotional support system they have known all their lives. They’re living with strangers, in a new setting, and working under intense pressure to achieve. Many have had limited experience with the new autonomy that comes with college life – autonomy that also brings easier access to alcohol and illegal drugs, and new peer pressure. Their ability to adjust to change is challenged. Their interpersonal skills are tested as they develop a new social support system. They must learn to manage stress in this new environment while often coping with loneliness. They do all this with disrupted sleeping, eating and exercise patterns. Now add in COVID-19. One can hardly imagine a more stressful situation for young people with limited life experience. This adjustment is made much more difficult for about one fifth of students- those with some underlying mental health or substance abuse condition.

Obviously, college students are a vulnerable population, particularly vulnerable for suicide as evidenced by their high rate of death from that cause. But they are also vulnerable for mental health and substance abuse conditions in general. This vulnerability is especially significant during the COVID pandemic with its unusual and additional stresses.

The Role of College Administrators in Reducing College Suicides

College administrators realize their responsibility for student’s mental health and safety but are faced with the dual challenge of reduced budgets and implementing COVID precautions. What can they do to improve student access to mental health and preventative services and to ensure students’ wellbeing? Here are some suggestions.

  • Survey students and parents. Ask them about their mental health issues, needs and expectations for campus support.
  • Provide accessible campus wellness activities that build resilience in students and normalize mental health on par with physical health.
  • Provide easy access to behavioral health screening services, services that include easy access to counselors.
  • Review your on-campus student counseling center’s services, hours of operation and accessibility. Is there a “waiting list” for services? Is 24/7 access to a counselor available for students with urgent needs? Are services being delivered in culturally competent ways?
  • Make sure students, faculty, administrators, staff, and campus police are trained in Mental Health First Aid.
  • Offer a comprehensive suicide awareness and prevention program for students.
  • Engage rising first year students early on with supportive services that help them bridge the social and emotional transition from high school to college.
  • Don’t forget the mental health of students in your entirely online educational programs. Do these students have equal access to your institution’s mental health services? Are their unique needs being addressed?
  • Finally, if you have fiduciary responsibilities for student and faculty health and wellbeing, examine your own attitudes and beliefs about sensitive issues like mental health, suicide and emotional wellbeing. Make sure you recognize your own biases (it’s okay, we all have biases) and recognize how they influence your actions.

About the author

Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, is the Chief Clinical Officer for Espyr. Norman has worked in the mental health field for over 30 years and is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health clinician.

About Espyr

Espyr is a national leader in mental health and achieving sustainable behavioral change. For over 30 years, Espyr has provided innovative mental health programs to employers, government departments and agencies, as well academic institutions.   Espyr’s clients include those that operate under some of the most challenging and stressful conditions. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

Sources

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, June 24–30, 2020

https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6932a1.htm?s_cid=mm6932a1_w

Peterson C, Sussell A, Li J, Schumacher PK, Yeoman K, Stone DM. Suicide Rates by Industry and Occupation — National Violent Death Reporting System, 32 States, 2016. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020; 69:57–62. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6903a1external icon.

Suicide is the Second Leading Cause of Death Among College Students

https://www.safecolleges.com/suicide-second-highest-cause-of-death-among-college-students/

National Center For Education Statistics

https://nces.ed.gov/ccd/tables/201314_Virtual_Schools_table_3.asp