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‘It’s OK to not be OK’: Students struggle with increased mental health challenges during pandemic

When Westminster College moved to remote learning to follow guidelines from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention regarding COVID-19 in March, students experienced a sudden and drastic change in their routines. 

This transition to a new and unfamiliar college setting has continued into the Fall semester. While some classes are incorporating a system of blended learning — a mix of online and in-person meetings — many classes have shifted to being completely remote. 

This shift has affected students’ ability to socialize and carry on the typical college experience. 

Erin Gibson, the director of counseling at Westminster, said many students are experiencing increased mental health struggles. These include anxiety, depression and hopelessness because of current conditions. 

“Starting back in March, we started to notice [students] experiencing more things like anxiety and difficulty coping,” Gibson said. “[Also the] difficulty with feeling like everything is uncertain in a very sudden way.”

Westminster collaborates with The Jed Foundation to support the mental health of students. Kyle Sebastian, the higher education programming coordinator for The Jed Foundation, did a webinar to educate faculty on how to support students who are struggling with mental health challenges and remote learning.  

“Identifying students at risk is easy when you have someone in your classroom to see if someone’s falling asleep or if there are some other issues,” Sebastian said. “But when you have an online learner, you may have to look out for things in different ways.”

Gibson said that The Jed Foundation has a lot of information about learning to cope with these things.

“The tag that they keep using that I really like is ‘It’s OK to not be OK,’” Gibson said.

One key factor improving mental health is for the campus community to acknowledge solidarity during the pandemic, according to Gibson.

“Those of us in power positions [make] it look like we got it all together, but we’re all doing the same thing that [students] are doing,” Gibson said. “Trying to survive, trying to figure it out moment-to-moment to know how to work best. We’re all in it together.”

Forum reporter Rian Zetzer sat down with Gibson to discuss the mental health challenges students are facing amid the pandemic. You can listen to the full interview on The Forum Podcasts, available on Spotify, SoundCloud and Apple Podcasts

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Rian Zetzer
Rian is a “super-senior” communication major graduating in December. When Rian is not on campus, you can find her skiing, hiking or biking in mountains with her trusty dog Ziggy. Rian hopes to combine her passion for the outdoors with her passion for content creation by working in the outdoor industry upon graduation.

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