The virtual format during the heat of the pandemic saw a lower number of students reaching out to receive help from NJIT’s Center for Counseling and Psychological Services (C-CAPS), which provides individual and group counseling facilities that are safe, non-judgmental and confidential.
However, as C-CAPS Director Dr. Phyllis Bolling and Staff Psychologist Dr. James Mandala stated, “With the resumption of in-person learning and a higher student presence on campus, we expected the number of students coming to C-CAPS for counseling and psychotherapy to be higher this year than last year.” About 45% more students have asked for services, and the same percent of counseling sessions have increased in comparison to the same period last year.
The general trends from the past ten years have continued to follow the same patterns; there has been an upward trend in symptoms of anxiety, depression and social anxiety. Bolling and Mandala noted, “Mental health difficulties appear to have been exacerbated by the pandemic, especially in the traditionally college-aged population: 18-24.”
There was a 2021 report from the Collegiate Center for Mental Health about an annual survey that stated anxiety is the most common and topmost presenting concern shown by students. In the last year specifically, academic distress has increased substantially for students.
The survey highlighted the most common areas that have affected students during the pandemic; 72.4% of students struggled more with mental health, 69.1% with motivation or focus, 66.7% with loneliness or isolation, 66.4% with academics and 61% with missed experiences or opportunities. 15.08% reported experiencing a major depressive episode, characterized by it being severe enough to affect functioning, in the past year.
“Numbers at university counseling centers across the country suggest that over 60% of college students have experienced depression since the pandemic began. The previously stated difficulties are also among the most common struggles that bring students at NJIT into treatment at C-CAPS,” Bolling and Mandala wrote. “Notably, although we have returned to in-person learning, a number of NJIT students have reported continuing difficulties with motivation and focus, anxiety and academic distress.”
Additionally, after many were in isolation during the last academic year, this has resulted in anxiety with in-person interpersonal and social interactions. “In many ways, we have had two classes of undergraduate students who may be experiencing the emotions of a first-year student coming to campus for the first time; many students — including first year transfer students — spent 2020 taking classes remotely,” they mentioned. “Social distancing has led to rusty social skills and feelings of discomfort for some in social settings.”
This time of year in particular is difficult for many. Bolling and Mandala listed some examples of reasons this is the case: “Academic pressures are often increasingly intense as the semester is coming to an end. Members of clubs and organizations often have added responsibilities as year-end programs need to be organized and staffed. Students who are graduating are juggling the stress of hunting for permanent jobs while completing academic requirements, and others are searching for summer internships or employment.”
The highest rates of suicide are seen during April, May and June. As spring weather approaches and students are outside more often, for those who are feeling isolated or lonely, seeing people in groups enjoying the warm weather may make the ache of loneliness more intense.
There are also some new initiatives that have been funded by a grant from The Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey that involve partnerships with Campus Health Services, the Dean of Students Office and C-CAPS.
A pilot Student Peer Wellness Coaching Program will offer students an opportunity to meet with fellow students trained in Peer Coaching skills who will assist in promoting emotional and physical health and wellness of fellow students by focusing on specific goals in these areas.
An online program — Kognito At-Risk for Students and Kognito-at-Risk for Faculty and Staff — is an interactive, online simulation program that will offer all members of the NJIT community an opportunity to receive training on recognizing signs of mental health distress, effectively communicate concerns with individuals experiencing distress and take action or make a referral.
Bolling and Mandala offered suggestions on how to take care of your mental health. Try to be gentle, patient and compassionate with yourself as well as with others, rather than harsh, impatient and critical. Maintain perspective and pay attention to the impact your thoughts have on your mood and functioning; work on reframing your thoughts if they seem to affect you negatively.
Remember to get enough sleep; getting less than 7–9 hours a night will impair most people’s memory and concentration. Practice some sort of meditation, mindfulness, positive affirmations or relaxation regularly. Connect with people who care about you — this is a powerful way to destress. Make attempts to connect non-virtually.
If you have trouble with motivation, you can build it up by increasing your activity. Don’t think or wait until you feel like it to take some action — just do it. Motivation often follows after you get started doing something. Practice creativity: activities like painting, sculpture, coloring, playing a musical instrument, singing, dancing, or even playing Minecraft may allow you to process emotions and stress without even talking about it.
Check on your friends. If someone is struggling, just being there for them can be tremendously helpful. You don’t need to solve their problems, just let them know that they are not alone. If your friend is seriously distressed, don’t be afraid to talk to them about it. It’s okay to feel a little awkward when you do.
Reach out for help! NJIT has many resources that may be beneficial — fellow students, advisors, tutors, faculty, C-CAPS, Dean of Students, Student Life, Residence Life, Resident Assistants or family friends. Asking for help is sometimes seen as a sign of weakness. However, recognizing that you need help and seeking it out is actually a sign of strength and positive, proactive self-care.
Advice and tips included in the C-CAPS article published last winter are still relevant today: https://njitvector.com/2020/12/c-caps-director-talks-mental-health/.
C-CAPS is continuing to offer individual and group services via phone and video platforms as well as in-person services. New staff members — Mandala, Shalin Bhatt, M.A. and Hannah Byrd, M.A. — were also welcomed recently. You can contact the services to schedule a meeting or inquire about services by calling (973) 596-3414 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.