Pandemic adds to stress for college students

CODY — Already dealing with a barrage of stressors – moving somewhere new, away from friends and families, paying for school, often navigating what it’s like to be on their own for the first time – college students are struggling more with anxiety and depression, and the pandemic has only made it worse.

“I think it’s the combination of the pandemic, the world at large, the political environment, the stage of life that they’re in, all of that,” said Kim Fletcher, who works as counselor and disability services head at Northwest College in Powell. “I think it’s the isolation, the lack of being able to have a lot of peer support and network support.”

Across the country, college students are reporting higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression, while at the same time they are not getting the type of socialization that may help alleviate some of those same issues. While the lasting effects of the pandemic on college students may not be known for years, studies from the National Institute of Health and Texas A&M University have found more students are struggling with their mental health and report higher rates of anxiety, depression and suicidal thought than they did before the pandemic.

At Northwest, those students are, at least in part, seeking help. Fletcher no longer has to recruit students to come to her office for counseling sessions.

“We could probably be serving a lot more students if we had the time to do it,” she said.

Being back on campus has been a boon for some. The interaction and socialization have helped, but the hardest part has been figuring out how to come together safely, said interim residence and campus life director Lee Blackmore.

“We’re still trying to find ways to do what we used to do in COVID-acceptable ways,” he said. “We’re trying to have a sense of normalcy.”

What normal will look like still isn’t clear. Some students are finding hope in the vaccine rollout, but other challenges, including an increasingly fractured political environment, may mean the end of the pandemic won’t end the ongoing mental health issues college students are facing.

“That will reduce the isolation and back some support,” Fletcher said. “But until the bigger picture gets better, I don’t think it’s going to get a huge amount better.”