How the COVID-19 pandemic affected students’ long-term mental health

Telehealth during the pandemic
Photo courtesy of Edward Jenner

Globally, everyone went through a unique pandemic experience. Stay-at-home and isolation orders took a toll on individual mental health.

Although quarantine impacted people in different ways, studies show college students are affected more than any other age group.

Stress and sadness are naturally occurring emotions that can contribute to anxiety and depression. However, these medical conditions are clinically diagnosed when these feelings become excessive and interfere with everyday life.  

“It’s important to talk about what anxiety and depression really are because today more than ever before, a part of our problem is that we use the word ‘anxiety’ for stress and use the word ‘depression’ for sadness,” said Dr. Matthew Niece, director of counseling services at Boise State University. “If we are attributing a negative word or connotation to naturally occurring things … we’re going to make ourselves feel worse.” 

Boise State University President Dr. Marlene Tromp created Project Launchpad during the pandemic. This project is designed to support young people during these difficult and uncertain times through several efforts. 

Telehealth during the pandemic
[Telehealth quickly became the standard for most people seeking therapy and other mental health services during quarantine.]
Photo courtesy of Edward Jenner | The Arbiter

These efforts include a team of academic, student success and mental health leaders who engage with student groups to collect data and problem-solve and a class called “Leading & Learning During Uncertain Times” taught by President Tromp and Gordon Jones, the dean of Boise State’s College Innovation and Design. 

Dr. Tromp said the data from Project Launchpad revealed that people 18 to 24 showed more psychological distress than any other age group during the pandemic. 

Over the past two years, this age group has been largely impacted by the pandemic due to this loss of milestones, missed or lost opportunities and uncertainty of what the future holds.  

“One day [during quarantine] my son came in and he said to me, ‘This is so much harder for me than it is for you,’” said Dr. Tromp. “I felt a little indignant that he had even suggested that something was hard about what he was experiencing or harder. [But the data bore him out.” 

Depression and anxiety existed before the pandemic, however, quarantine intensified these conditions. 

“The loneliness and the isolation that come along with the pandemic and the loss that everybody experienced just amplified the anxiety and depression that people were already feeling, especially in this age group,” said Dr. Niece. 

Not only have CDC studies shown findings of psychological distress among this age group, similar numbers can be found on Boise State’s campus.

Dr. Niece said Boise State’s health services have increased by nearly 40% with anxiety and depression as the most common complaints. 

The demand for telehealth appointments increased during 2020, both locally and globally. According to the CDC, telehealth appointments increased by 50% in the first quarter of 2020 compared to 2019, and then jumped 154% by week 13. 

“I started seeing a counselor through Zoom during quarantine because I was feeling an overload of stress,” said Zak Stout, a sophomore majoring in special education. “Before COVID I was more of an extroverted person, so not being able to see my friends was hard for me.” 

According to the American Physiological Association’s (APA) 2021 COVID-19 Practitioner Survey, 96% of psychologists that responded said teletherapy is effective

“I have monthly virtual appointments to talk to my same counselor from home in Huntington Beach because he has helped me so much,” Stout said. 

If you are feeling overwhelmed or need someone to talk to, contact Boise State Health Services at (208) 426-1459. When Counseling Services are closed, calls to that number will be directed to an after-hours nurse line. 

If you have an emergency or need urgent care, call 911. 
You are not alone. Call the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline at (208) 398- 4357 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).  Text “HOME” to 741-741 to reach the National Crisis Text Line.

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