One of the many things that the school had to innovate during the covid-19 pandemic was the way mental health therapy was delivered to students, while the traditional in-person sessions take part on campus, therapists also transition their services onto an online platform.
For some students such as Reina, this meant dealing with freshmen struggles and college-level course work for the first time during an unprecedented pandemic. “[My mental health] definitely has gone downhill because of the lack of contact with people,” says Reina over an email interview provided by her therapist.
Depression, lack of motivation, and anxiety were the feelings of incoming freshman, Reina, 18 years old, (whose actual full name has been withheld for privacy.) Taking initiative, Reina reached out to the Santa Ana Health and Wellness Center after checking their list of psychological services online and decided to use their telehealth services.
“I struggle with depression, it’s side effects and anxiety,” expresses Reina.
Reina is one of a few hundred SAC students who used the school-provided online therapy last semester to help with her stress and anxiety. During the Coronavirus pandemic, teletherapy has made mental health services more accessible to students. It has allowed therapists and patients to meet virtually.
Student stress has become a norm, a recent study conducted across the US by the Journal of Medical Internet Research, found that 7 out of 10 university students are experiencing increased levels of stress, depressions, and anxiety due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Ultimately the Health and Wellness center transitioned in-person therapy to online through Cranium Cafe. Students still have 10 allocated sessions per academic year and the process is quite simple, before starting any sort of sessions students must fill out forms given out by the mental health and wellness center.
After formalities, a teletherapy session goes like this: The student is emailed a secure link to connect on Cranium Cafe, or students can also be contacted via a preferred number. Students can join on multiple sorts of devices, tablets, phones, or laptops, as long as students can sign on to SAC canvas.
Furthermore, the health and wellness center is still allowing in-person meetings. The student and psychologist start the 45-minute session by discussing the confidentiality protocols as well as mental health goals.
Reina expresses that it has been helpful for her in various ways, “It is easy to sign up for and offers a great way to help with your mental health, it can also limit the time commitment because you won’t have to travel back and forth to appointments. This will also benefit students who don’t have transportation,” says Reina.
However, there are limitations when it comes to getting students receiving psychological care this school year. Since distant learning began in March, the staff at the clinic have seen a decrease in students using mental health services, including teletherapy.
“During covid-19 [we ask ourselves] are people looking for us? Because we would be out there tabling asking students ‘hey did you know we are here? Come see us,’” explains Rebecca Barnard, the SAC Health and Wellness coordinator.
Students used to have a proper guide to mental health whereas now they have difficulty finding it, on top of their other responsibilities. Jill Kapil, the lead full-time psychologist says, “having to navigate boundaries at home, work schedules, school schedules, child care, and the economy. Given all of that, mental health might not be at the forefront of their mind around ‘let me go and access mental health services instead of ‘let me take care of my needs.”
Although the health and wellness faculty have noticed a drop in students using their psychologist services comparatively to the 2019 fall semester due to remote learning, it hasn’t stopped the staff from getting creative in their outreach efforts.
On top of adding telehealth to their SAC mental health services, Kapil is leading and increasing the availability of online mental health workshops. Currently, 23 online zoom workshops are available weekly until the end of the semester in May. The workshops touch on a variety of subjects to help students succeed in self-care, procrastination, tips to better sleep at night, and coping with rejection and loss are just a few of the topics. To attend, a student registers through the SAC Health and Wellness website. Last semester an average of five students attended each workshop.
The clinic also created an Instagram account dedicated to health and wellness. “We saw other departments having success reaching students through their Instagram accounts so we started one,” says Barnard.
Looking towards a positive future, Kapil and Barnard only see telehealth as a tool that will reach more students. “Telehealth has expanded our services in very unique ways,” says Kapil, “I think we have opened a new door and hope to keep offering teletherapy even after Covid-19.”