Amid a global pandemic, the COVID-19 problem has pushed schools to face unprecedented challenges that prompted them to shift their learning platforms to an online setup. With this relatively unfamiliar setup, schools need to maintain their promise of providing inclusive learning for all their students while supporting their staff and teachers. On top of that, schools now have to create plans that will (hopefully) benefit their students whilst still confronting the uncertain future that lies ahead.
Hence, with nothing certain, what does remain obvious is that the pandemic has pushed people to engage a variety of negative emotions such as stress, anxiety, worry, and grief. In psychology, they refer to these emotions as stressors which are usually the precursors of mental health challenges that a person may face. It could even worsen the state of those that already have been experiencing mental health problems prior to the pandemic.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, 15% to 20% of a school’s population could be identified as needing help or counseling seminars through screening based on signs of perceived emotional distress (Dowdy, 2014). Furthermore, due to continued physical isolation, this number has been expected and has been shown to be increasing ever since the pandemic started.
Additionally, social factors (such as losing access to interaction with their peers) and environmental factors (such as being located in an area with poor internet connection and a lack of access to technology) have put students at high risk of becoming more burdened with worsening mental health.
Schools must create better mechanisms to address these mental health issues that students are facing while keeping a distance. Also, it should be noted that without giving attention to the proper resources and support that should be given to the students, this could have lasting effects on the education system. To name a few threats that schools and universities face, lack of mental health support could mean:
- Students dropping out of school
- Higher susceptibility to substance abuse
- And lower lifetime earning potential
Thus, schools have been working hard to adopt mechanisms that can aid their students. Here are some of the recommended and practiced mental health support systems developed during the pandemic that have been helping students get back on their feet.
Expansion of the Telemental Health Service
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, a RAND study (2018) indicated that over 60% of college students with mental health needs were open to the idea of using online-based mental health services. Telemental health services refer to the delivery of counseling sessions and psychological assistance by means of interactive audio and video, which allows the students to communicate with psychiatrists or counselors in real-time while remaining in the comfort of their own homes. In line with classes going virtual, this was a self-explanatory route that schools took in order to continue their mental health support services.
Partnerships with Community-based Providers
For schools that do not have a well-established mental health service, this route of providing mental health support for their students has been highly considered. Despite the lack of infrastructure for student mental health, schools can quickly partner with services that exist in the vicinity of their students. By doing a check on where their students are located, schools can act as the bridge between students and these mental health care providers either by directing them through a hand-off. Schools can also disseminate information regarding the available telehealth support systems or community-based central hubs that are dedicated to mental health assistance.
Partnerships with Peer-based Organizations that Advocate Mental Health Awareness
According to a 2018 RAND study, the act of supporting organizations that advocate for more widespread knowledge on mental health issues allows young adults to be more open to talking about their mental health distresses. As a concerned university staff, this is essential in monitoring your student’s mental well-being. Once you vouch that your school should support these causes, your students will be more open to seeking help from the counseling services you may offer.
Capacity-building and Financial Assistance of National Crisis Centers
More than anything, the pandemic had exposed the system’s inadequacies that already had once struggled even before all of this happened. Crisis centers have been operating in pre-pandemic situations, and they provide mental health support and professional emotional support for their local communities. The problem is, most crisis centers are non-profit, and they rely primarily on voluntary funding.
Hence, during the pandemic, schools have taken a significant interest in providing them with financial support that they can offer to these organizations, ensuring an ongoing resource pool for their students who may avail of these services.
Mental health advocates worldwide have been advocating for better mental health support in these troubling times. When all is uncertain, schools and universities that deal with young adults must give serious consideration to investing in better mental health services that could well lead to long-term systems that may support their students even when this pandemic already ends.