Mental health initiatives help university students post-COVID

Suicide prevention signs posted in different areas of Florida International University. (David Espinosa/SFMN)

Miami institutions are providing alternative ways for students to cope with mental health issues due to the effects COVID-19. 

Public institutions such as Miami Dade College and Florida International University are using a variety of tools and programs that are meant to ease stress and offer a safe environment for students to talk about their feelings and state of mind.

“There are a range of online self-help tools, online live drop-in groups and workshops that are run by clinicians,” said Dr. Todd Lengnick, director of counseling and psychological Services at Florida International University. “Our standard services include group therapy, psychiatry and individual therapy, which provides face-to-face sessions as well as telehealth.”

As the world recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, students face a variety of changes that could ultimately impact their mental health such as financial changes, familial deaths, or simply the way a student is able to take classes. 

Mental health illnesses and issues, such as depression and anxiety, peaked throughout the coronavirus pandemic and crept their way into students’ lives. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between August 2020 and February 2021 the percentage of adults with recent symptoms of depression and anxiety increased from 36.4% to 41.5%, where increases were largest between the ages of 18-39.

“I lost my grandma last year due to COVID and going through something like that while making sure an assignment is turned in by 11:59 p.m. on any given day was incredibly stressful,” said Ina Molina, a student at Florida International University. “I took advantage of the telehealth services FIU provides and got to talk to someone that wasn’t a family member, someone who wouldn’t judge.” 

Other students must come to terms with the change from online classes to in-person classes.

“I’m not a social person so being able to take classes from the comfort of my home was great, it gave me the freedom to work at my own pace,” said Anthony Bacallao, a student at Miami Dade College. “Taking classes online relieved my anxiety and I didn’t have to worry about going on campus, which is always stressful.”

Miami Dade College offers on-campus counseling as well as virtual and phone counseling for those who are having trouble.  

The college is also offering a new 24-hour service called the Crisis Helpline, which is meant to provide help to those who need immediate assistance when managing depression, suicidal thoughts and other forms of potential self-harm. 

Miami Dade College was not available for comment after numerous calls and emails. 

This increase lingers and makes it harder for students to want to finish school with their degrees. 

“My mental health has reached an all-time low and I find myself thinking of dropping out of school, just so I can focus on lowering my stress,” said Anthony Bacallao, student at Miami Dade College. “It’s too much work to put on myself at the moment.” 

Other institutions in Florida are also taking measures to provide the proper tools for students in need of mental health services such as the University of Central Florida and their programs that include, crisis counseling, therapy assistance online and a mixture of individual, couples and group counseling. 

“We try to provide the necessary resources for students so they can achieve a better quality of life while also attending a university that is genuinely interested in their well-being,” said Vanessa Stein, outreach director at the University of Central Florida. “Our programs are meant to comfort students as we are aware that not every student has a stable standing at home or otherwise.” 

David Espinosa, a senior at Florida International University, is majoring in journalism, with a concentration in film. He enjoys writing, music and art.