Flexibility in mental health service delivery will be key this school year, say co-authors of a new report.
Anxiety, academic difficulties related to online learning, trouble concentrating and pandemic fatigue were cited in a national report as the top reasons students have sought help for their mental health and on-campus well-being.
Titled Campus mental health across Canada: The ongoing impact of COVID-19, the report, published by Canada’s Mental Health Commission and the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services (CACUSS), is based on responses to an online survey received from student affairs and mental health professionals at 69 Canadian colleges . Three quarters of these were universities. Conducted in mid-2021, the survey covers the 2020-2021 academic year and the second and third waves of the pandemic. It follows similar surveys conducted every year since 2018.
Responses reflect the most common issues students sought help with, as ranked by respondents. Anxiety remains the number one — and growing — reason students have sought help over the years, with a 29 percent increase in its ranking as the top concern since 2018. Depression, the second most common reason, fell slightly in prevalence back the four years, although it’s starting to rise again.
For students, the uncertainty of the pandemic, as well as the lack of activities that promote well-being, such as going to the gym or meeting up in person with friends, has been “a really difficult environment,” Lina Di Genova said. Director of Strategy, Assessment and Evaluation for McGill University Student Services. She co-authored the report with Tayyab Rashid, a clinical psychologist at the University of Toronto Scarborough.
“When you don’t know what’s coming, it increases everyone’s anxiety because you don’t know how to plan, you don’t know how to prepare,” said Dr. Di Genova. “For students, the greatest impact is on their learning.”
Attention and concentration problems have been among the fastest growing at 16 percent per year. There was a significant increase between 2020, when it was 9 percent, and 2021, when it shot up to 18 percent. Similar growth was seen in academic problems, such as B. Difficulty accessing virtual technology and communicating with faculty.
A new mental problem
Respondents also reported high levels of pandemic fatigue among college students through the summer of 2021. (“Pandemic fatigue” was defined as so tired of public health restrictions that students are unable to do what is essential to their well-being is.) Researchers found that pandemic fatigue was significantly associated with anxiety, isolation, financial worries, and a higher academic workload as a result of the shift to online learning.
Because there is no specific treatment for pandemic fatigue, Dr. Rashid suggested that universities should try to reduce the factors involved: “Maybe it’s easier to have programs for 2022 that reduce social isolation for students,” he said.
The University of Waterloo Advisory Services leadership team called the report’s findings “very consistent” with the student body and said weekly virtual class discussion boards are a particular source of online learning fatigue for students. Professors set up these discussions to help students stay in touch with each other during personal restrictions. When used in each course, however, “students found it an added academic challenge and pressure to be constantly logged in online,” the team wrote in an email college affairs.
The team added that it is important for their students to keep support services online and available despite other service disruptions. The online group counseling was particularly appreciated because it helped students feel less isolated.
More than half of student union leaders reported difficulties in overcoming legal and other limitations to providing ongoing mental health support to students living outside the jurisdiction where their professionals are licensed to practice, including students in other provinces or countries. Many universities turned to third-party providers, such as My Student Support, a counseling services app operated by Toronto-based human resources firm Lifeworks, to provide live help and other resources that do not violate jurisdiction rules.
When it comes to delivering services virtually, “is the first thing I ask about during COVID [is], ‘Johnny/Amalie, where are you?'” said Dr. Rashid. “Because what if something happens during the session or after the session and we know they are in Beijing? How can we offer services to them, especially when they are – heaven forbid – suicidal or in some kind of crisis?” The report includes recommendations for Studentenwerk staff, e.g. B. Assessing stress levels at the beginning of the school year to identify high-risk students and involving students in designing campaigns to reduce pandemic fatigue. It also has a long appendix with ideas for building and delivering services based on clinical practice and related research literature.
Both researchers stressed that student services need to recognize that students may be undergoing another transition this fall as campuses seek to offer more in-person learning, activities, and services, including through hybrid models. dr Rashid said one of his clients expressed concern at having to master yet another new routine and set of study skills after completing the first two years of his degree remotely.
“People have gone through so many changes that I think we will need a little more time to adjust,” added Dr. Di Genova added. “One should pay attention to this and not simply assume that things will continue as usual.”
Keeping student union infrastructure flexible and adaptable will be key, both researchers said. The Mental Health Commission of Canada’s national standard for postsecondary student mental health is a tool that service providers can use to not only assess campus services, but also to determine what is best provided externally, possibly through partnerships can.
“We see much more effectiveness and impact when we are agile and flexible and focus on early access and early intervention,” agreed Vera Romano, director of McGill’s Student Wellness Hub. The hub was created through an integrated service model just six months before the outbreak of the pandemic. dr Romano called it “excellently suited” to the demands of the pandemic, including online moving services. However, she added that McGill’s delivery of services has also been aided by the continuous assessment of what is working and what is needed, by consulting data, including the campus mental health report, and by staff, faculty and students.