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Mental Health Concerns in COVID-19 Period

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In 2019 the Senate heard from Dr. Aaron Krasnow, Associate Vice President, from ASU Counseling and Health Services about student mental health and national trends. The statistics that he presented were alarming. Between 2010 and 2018 the US has seen a 37% increase in overwhelming anxiety and a 140% increase in students who are being treated for anxiety. Students report being stressed about finances and work-life balance, and often suffer from exhaustion. During that same time frame, cases of interfering depression rose 47% and students treated for depression rose 118%. Students with thoughts of suicide rose 100%. We were also told that mental illness is the second most common reason that students drop out of school. Though these were nation-wide statistics, ASU is not immune from these issues. For instance, during that same period, student appointments with ASU counseling services have seen a 130% increase. It is still unclear why mental health issues have increased during this time frame.

The Senate was concerned last year that adequate support be available to our students. Now we find ourselves in the unprecedented times of COVID-19 during which we are practicing social distancing, often separated from family and friends, learning and working online, and in many cases, losing our jobs. The faculty believe that these issues may be exacerbating the already growing mental health crisis among students. We reached out to Dr. Krasnow once again to check on ASU’s response to mental health concerns amid the pandemic. Dr. Krasnow reported no new statistics but mentioned discussions about the need to “flatten the mental health curve.”  To do this there needs to be early intervention in mental health and continuations of practices that we know work such as “validation of the difficulty, teaching micro-coping skills for self-help, positive relationships with others, access to mental health professionals, and a supportive work/home ecosystem for recovery with someone is struggling.”

ASU Counseling Services now provide Zoom workshops for “social, emotional, spiritual wellbeing and peer-run support circles.” Many of the services can be found at https://eoss.asu.edu/counseling. A good example of a peer-run support circle is the newly launched Devils4Devils group that is helping to create an environment of empathy at ASU and improving the social emotional well-being of the community (https://eoss.asu.edu/devils4devils). In addition, ASU’s Department of Psychology has recently launched a weekly group meeting to help people learn how to cope with stress (https://usenate.asu.edu/asu-psychology-clinic-launches-group-improve-stress-coping-skills). If faculty would like to know more about ASU’s mental health resources or would like to schedule an information session for their unit’s faculty, they can follow up with Dr. Krasnow.

As faculty we may be able to spot students experiencing difficulties and be able to help with early intervention by providing access to resources such as these. Also, as faculty we are not immune from mental health issues ourselves and need to remember to engage in self-care and support of one another. Together we can all help flatten the mental health curve.