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In addition to the technical challenges associated with the pandemic, like navigating Zoom and maintaining a stable internet connection, mental health struggles have also stemmed from remote learning. Since the start of the pandemic, more than 63% of college-aged students have reported symptoms of anxiety or depression according to the New York Times, leaving many in a state of deep social disconnection.
As a result, there has been an increase in the amount of students utilizing the University’s free Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS).
Dominique Broussard, a CAPS staff psychologist, said that, as of fall 2020, their office has seen a 74% increase in visits to the CAPS self-help website compared to the same time in 2019. Broussard noted that CAPS recognizes that “during this pandemic there is a lot of ambiguous loss — loss of personal connection; loss of the ability to have the college experience.”
In response to these struggles, CAPS has provided virtual counseling for students who reside in California and has also created online resources, such as toolkits and workshops, to help with anxiety, relationships, grief, mindfulness, and general wellness. Due to federal health regulations, as long as courses are primarily held online, only students who are California residents can access virtual short-term therapy through CAPS. For those located outside of California, meetings can be scheduled with a CAPS representative to connect them with therapy sites in their locales.
Some students, notably first-years, are finding it hard to get involved with campus life, whether it be due to immediate coronavirus concerns, their location, or a general lack of on-campus connections. Historically, CAPS has struggled with long wait times, creating some inaccessibility for students in need.
Freshman performing arts and social justice major, Alexandro Taylor-Young, has found it rather “weird” starting college online from his home in Vermont, more than 3,000 miles away from campus.
“I’ve often felt cut-off, especially with my friends being at schools in-person,” he said.
Similarly, junior theology major Seref Ha’Qol has found it increasingly difficult to stay motivated with the transition to an online modality. Ha’Qol also mentioned that they feel it hasn’t been easy to reach out to professors in the virtual class format. They made it clear that constantly being in front of the screen is exhausting and said “Even outside of [the] classroom, social and other professional events are going on online, which makes me feel so fatigued.” Ha’Qol said they have utilized CAPS phone appointments which have been helpful throughout the pandemic, despite some of the differences in the quality of therapy due to CAPS’s new remote format.
On January 26, 2020, ASUSF Senate named Olivia Williams, a sophomore politics major, as their wellness representative. Williams is charged with ensuring that students are aware of the resources available to them which address mental, emotional, and physical health.
The Senate is also working with CAPS to improve both the accessibility and quality of their services. Senators are in the process of updating and redesigning the ways students are able to communicate and interact with CAPS. Williams said the Senate “desires to only create a positive and welcoming environment for every student and faculty [member].”
Williams said she will be resuming wellness workshops in the fall 2021 semester, but for now, students can reach her by appointment on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12-1:30 p.m. PST.
Broussard said that in this difficult time, students can cope by not worrying themselves with what is out of their control. She explained that one cannot change public health restrictions, but they can focus on “how often we may go outside and how we engage with people in those regulations.”
Additionally, Broussard said some students cannot control their living environments and the family members or roommates who reside there, but they can control their “space within that living environment,” by, for example, redecorating their bedrooms. Broussard emphasized that students are not alone in their journey to mental stability during the pandemic.
This semester, CAPS is hosting virtual workshops and an anxiety toolkit series. All students, regardless of location, can register on the CAPS website to attend. In a year that has been marked by such hardship, there are still campus resources available to help students preserve their mental health.
CAPS resources can be accessed at https://myusf.usfca.edu/caps. Olivia Williams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @asusf.wellnessrep on Instagram.
Megan Robertson is a freshman media studies and performing arts & social justice double major. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @megrrobertson.
Lauren Diaz is a sophomore politics major with minors in legal studies & media studies. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Instagram @lauren.grunge.