Regardless of current proximity to an outbreak, fear and stress resulting from COVID-19 can be overwhelming as students, faculty, and staff face tremendous uncertainty, disruption from familiar routines, and unexpectedly disengaging from communities of social support.
As higher education institutions ask students and staff to rapidly leave campus and move to remote instruction, the impact of campus closures extends well beyond academics.
Higher ed leaders must be attentive to the effects of COVID-19 on the mental health of students and staff and can play a pivotal role in proactively providing resources to support the wellbeing of the school community, both virtually and in person.
Acknowledge how COVID-19 is impacting different groups across campus
To keep fears realistic and manageable, individuals should look for accurate information and updates, and review positive preventive practices that provide a greater sense of control amid the uncertainty.
But in addition to the general stress being faced by many, vulnerable student groups such as low-income, LGBTQ+, first-gen, and international students must make especially difficult decisions regarding their finances, housing, food, and personal safety. Students on work study serving as research, teacher, and resident assistants also face the possibility of losing employment.
Faculty members must rapidly transition to remote instruction and remain a first point of contact for students in distress, while also managing their own stress and anxiety. And support staff in facilities, health services, residence life, and dining services worry about reduced hours, layoffs, or unpaid work as many of these jobs cannot be completed remotely.
Use the resources in the teal box to help promote inclusivity, protect against stigma, and normalize and address pressing concerns among students, faculty, and staff.
Emphasize the importance of self-care and healthy coping strategies
Experts recommend maintaining consistent routines, practicing healthy habits, taking regular breaks from news and media, and finding ways to remain connected to social networks and support.
Use the resources in the teal box to help students, faculty, and staff identify strategies to cope during this stressful period. Incorporate them in classes to the extent possible, and widely distribute them on the university website, on social medial, and over e-mail.
When self-care is not enough
Even after using these strategies, individuals may still experience challenges in coping with the impact of COVID-19. While elevated levels of stress and anxiety are currently widespread, the following groups are at increased risk for exacerbated symptoms:
- People who have preexisting mental health conditions
- Vulnerable student groups and those who may be experiencing stigma
- School health professionals who are helping with the response
- Those with a loved one living in or helping with the response in an area where many people are sick
Be on the lookout for the second part of this series offering additional guidance on how institutions are providing or facilitating counseling and mental health services amid school closures, and how you can leverage telemental health services to enhance capacity.