Nearly seven months into the coronavirus pandemic, the United States is still seeing high rates of infection and little return to normalcy. Though some areas have begun cautiously reopening, many people doubt that we will return to ‘normal’ by the end of this year.
As public schools and colleges have begun opening across the country, they have attempted a variety of instruction methods, including exclusively virtual instruction, schedules that stagger virtual and in-person instruction, and exclusively in-person instruction. Unfortunately, many schools that have chosen some aspect of in-person instruction are being forced to consider second shutdowns due to outbreaks of infection.
But there is more at stake here than just the risk of contracting coronavirus, which is significant on its own. The coronavirus pandemic brings with it a second curve: its impact on mental health.
Students and Anxiety
College students, more than other populations, have been experiencing a significant mental health impact in the wake of COVID-19. More than 50 percent of the more than 50,000 participants in the American College Health Association’s Spring 2020 College Health Assessment reported that they sought help from their on-campus mental health services or counseling centers during this past year.
Experts predict that those numbers will dramatically increase as college students continue to return to campus for the 2020 fall semester. Mental health has always been a concern for college students. According to the chief education officer at the American Psychological Association, incidences of mental health concerns with college students were increasing even before the coronavirus pandemic began. With the continued impact of the pandemic, this vulnerable population needs mental health support more now than ever.
The Burden on Healthcare Professionals
These college students are not the only ones impacted by the pandemic, however. There is a second high-risk group, and they are essential to getting us through this health crisis: healthcare workers. Existing studies on the impact of outbreaks on the healthcare workers have shown a significant psychological impact, including burnout, exhaustion, post-traumatic stress, and fear of social contact.
Healthcare workers also experience fear of violence, either from patients and their families. Other essential workers, including retail workers, grocery store employees, law enforcement, and others, have similar concerns about customers and patrons angry about regulations and other mandates.
Flattening the Second Curve
Healing from the kind of trauma that healthcare workers experience takes years, and depression and anxiety can sometimes turn into lifelong battles for college students. In the short term, it is important to make mental health resources available, including medication and talk therapy, for those who need support.
Administrators at colleges and in hospitals and other clinics have a responsibility to support those in need of mental health services. It is important all the time, but especially now during the current crisis.