Online therapy helps students tackle mental health during pandemic

Picture By: Julie Leopo
Picture By: Julie Leopo

Depression, lack of motivation and anxiety are all normal feelings for teenagers tackling their first semester of college. Reina didn’t expect to have a pandemic on top of it all. 

When school officials put a halt to school events and in-person classes last March, Reina, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy, knew she needed to talk to someone. She reached out to the Santa Ana Health and Wellness Center after checking their list of psychological services online.

“[My mental health] definitely has gone downhill because of the lack of contact with people,” Reina said in an email interview facilitated by her therapist. 

Reina is one of a few hundred SAC students who used the school-provided online therapy last semester to help with their stress and anxiety. 

In the last year, student stress has become the norm. A recent study 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. One of the many things that the school had to innovate during the Covid-19 pandemic was the way mental health services were delivered to students. Teletherapy technology has made mental health services more accessible to students, allowing therapists and patients to meet virtually.  

“I think teletherapy is working really well, the accessibility is great for many students,” said Jill Kapil, SAC’s lead psychologist.

The Health and Wellness center transitioned in-person therapy to online through Cranium Cafe in April. Students still have 10 allocated sessions per academic year and the process for enrolling is 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 phone number. Students can join on multiple sorts of devices, tablets, phones, or laptops, as long as students can sign into 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 said that telehealth 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 distance learning began last March, the staff at the clinic have seen a dramatic decrease in students using mental health services, including teletherapy. Only about one in ten students who attended in-person sessions before the pandemic have signed up for virtual sessions. 

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“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,’” Rebecca Barnard, the SAC Health and Wellness coordinator, said.

Students used to have an in-person guide to mental health whereas now they have difficulty finding it, on top of their other responsibilities.

“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,” Kapil said. 

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. 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.”

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