In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Drake University students have continually received messages reminding them to wash their hands and cover their coughs. However, as those same students continue social distancing for weeks on end, many are questioning what this means for their psychological well-being.
According to the American Psychological Association, social distancing and isolation may cause fear, anxiety and depression.
“I know that this period of social distancing is really isolating for a lot of students,” said junior Kasey Springsteen. “You’re literally removing students from their support networks that they’ve established, and also there’s a lot more distance between them and the resources that they use to succeed.”
Other circumstances, such as job loss or unstable home environments, lead to a higher risk of stress during social distancing, according to the American Psychological Association. A lack of understanding or certainty may also contribute to feelings of anxiety.
“It’s the only thing that’s happening, but no one knows how to talk about it,” senior Adam Heater said. “That contributes a lot to the uncertainty of the situation. There’s a lot of uncertain facts and timeline and rhetoric. There’s not really a playbook.”
For Abby Bankes, a first-year student who has been attending therapy since middle school, social distancing goes against everything she’s learned.
“I’ve actively for the past seven years been trying to not socially distance myself,” Bankes said. “It’s kind of hard to employ those strategies when literally everyone is telling you to stay inside.”
To aid students during this time, the Drake Counseling Center is providing remote access appointments through Microsoft Teams. Students residing in Iowa who currently meet with a therapist at the counseling center can email their therapist to set up an appointment. For students out of state, therapists can only provide brief, 30-minute consultations and resources for students to explore due to licensing regulations.
“We know the majority of Drake’s population is not from Iowa, so we want to meet that need but also abide by our governing board,” said Danielle Green, head of the Drake Counseling Center.
In addition to remote appointments, the counseling center will also continue to provide support groups to students in and out of the state. According to Green, each therapist within the counseling center typically sees five to seven students a day. Since making the switch to telehealth, she believes fewer students have been using their services. However, that doesn’t mean students aren’t seeking help.
“This past week and even today we’ve had requests from students wanting to start services, so I could see our numbers going back up again,” Green said.
According to Dean of Students Jerry Parker, administration has been using “standard channels of email, website and one-on-one touch points” to communicate information on mental health services to students. Drake is also allowing students to take classes pass/fail and recently created the Student Emergency Fund, which provides financial assistance to students facing unforeseen financial needs as a result of the pandemic.
“As student needs have come to our attention, we have made it a priority to support them and while assisting them with resources, such as the emergency fund,” Parker said in an email. “On top of counseling and financial assistance, we have continued to provide virtual group therapy and other student services via remote delivery to ensure students know they are not alone especially as the vast majority of students are away from campus.”
Between these plans and the work being done by the counseling center, some students believe Drake is making positive progress.
“I think [Drake is] doing the best they can,” Springsteen said. “It’s an experience Drake has never gone through before, and the counseling center making themselves available for phone calls is really crucial.”
Other students believe there has been a lack of communication between administration and students thus far.
“I don’t know who to reach out to,” Bankes said “I know they said if we need support, we can do telehealth. But there weren’t even enough mental health resources before all this, so there’s not enough now.”
Green acknowledged how students may feel like there is no help available, but said now is the time to reach out, as immediate openings for appointments are available. In terms of what students can do for their own mental health during this time, Green recommends staying with your normal routine.
“We’ve got to create a schedule,” Green said.“When things are so disjointed, people aren’t doing anything, and that’s the easiest way to fall into poor mental health.”
Students also emphasized the importance of connecting with friends from campus, despite the physical distance.
“We’re kind of lucky in the sense that we have a lot of opportunities to still communicate, whereas if this pandemic happened 30 years ago then people would be really screwed as far as communication goes,” said Heater.
For many students, including Bankes, Heater and Springsteen, communicating with loved ones presents a sense of normalcy and allows students to reduce isolation while socially distancing.
“You can still have those relationships and friendships with people even if you’re not face-to-face,” Bankes said. “We all need to socially isolate, but we can stop that emotional isolation.”
Any student interested in receiving counseling during this time should email firstname.lastname@example.org.