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Editorial: Mental health strains & resources in a not-so-normal semester

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If the university cannot support our health during this time — physically and mentally — then it is failing to meet the basic needs of its students.
Bianka Heather/THE REVIEW

Though this semester may have seemed to be the return to normalcy that students and faculty alike had been yearning for since COVID-19 hit in March of 2020, it was truly anything but ordinary. 

With rising concerns about physical health and increased anxieties about socialization caused by over a year of isolating and distancing, students undoubtedly brought more baggage with them this semester than they have in the past. 

The Journal of Medical Internet Research published a study in Sept. 2020 about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of college students. Surveying 195 students at a large public university in the United States, researchers found that 138 students (71%) “indicated increased stress and anxiety due to the COVID-19 outbreak.” The stressors of the students included fear of getting themselves and their loved ones sick, difficulty concentrating, difficulty sleeping, decreased social interactions and increased concerns about academic performance. 

Though this study was conducted over a year ago, the effects of the pandemic on the mental health of college students still linger, though some of the health concerns may be less prominent than they were a year ago. 

This semester was an abrupt transition for most, if not all, students at the university. Many freshmen and sophomores have not experienced a normal, in-person educational experience since high school. Juniors and seniors have not had a normal semester since their freshmen and sophomore years. Adjusting to a more normal semester at the university, students may have had trouble adjusting to completely different schedules and having to balance in-person classes, extracurriculars and social lives.

Though mental health concerns have increased as a result of the pandemic, university mental health support resources have not expanded to keep up with demand. 

As students, we have heard countless horror stories associated with mental health services at the university. The counselors at the university’s Center for Counseling & Student Development (CCSD) seem to be very overbooked, leaving vulnerable students waiting too long to get an appointment for the Center. 

Looking toward next semester, we recommend that the university reflects on this semester and takes action to protect the mental health of students, beyond just providing them with a singular Re-Coop Day. 

The university should take efforts to scale up resources at CCSD, hiring more counselors so that students can book an appointment on a quicker timeline. 

We also recommend that the university consider a reform of grading options. 

In the spring semester of 2020, the university responded to the pandemic by allowing students to change their grading option to modified pass/fail, and by allowing students to change their grading option beyond the first few weeks of the semester. These changes to the grading options helped students dealing with personal issues and other strains on mental health. The university should consider reinstating these options in future semesters, or at the least, making grading options more lenient for students still dealing with the ramifications of a pandemic. 

Lastly, we urge the university to advocate flexibility among its professors in terms of their classes. 

Though the numbers are fewer than they have been in the past, students are still getting COVID-19, or even other types of sickness that prevent them from attending class. This semester, students have experienced inconsistencies when trying to make up for lost time due to sickness, with some professors being flexible and providing them with extended deadlines or options to tune into class virtually, while other professors leaving students in the dark until their return. The university needs to make sure that all professors are adequately responding to students’ health concerns, so that students can successfully complete their semester even when situations occur that are out of their control. 

Though the university’s efforts to help students’ mental health have been lacking, we commend other organizations in Newark like Sean’s House, which have gone above and beyond to assist students during this chaotic transition to more in-person activity by providing a safe space for students seeking support. 

We are still in a health crisis. If the university cannot support our health during this time — physically and mentally — then it is failing to meet the basic needs of its students. 

The Review’s weekly editorials are written to reflect the majority opinion of The Review’s staff. This week’s editorial was written by Tara Lennon, development officer. She may be reached at tlennon@udel.edu.

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