Written by Brooke Allnutt
We all know COVID-19 has had a profound impact on important aspects of our lives, especially our health. Not only have many lives been lost, but deferred treatment due to concerns about the virus has worsened pre-existing health conditions. In addition, COVID-19 has brought to light many problems in our country, one of which is a mental health crisis, exacerbated by socioeconomic barriers to accessing mental health care.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic began, a large portion of the population had behavioral or mental health conditions: “prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly one in five of U.S. adults reported having a mental illness in the past year”. However, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), less than 2 percent of countries’ national health budgets were spent on mental health. There were also many barriers to accessing mental health care, including cost, stigma, lack of awareness, and paucity of resources.
COVID-19 only intensifies the need for more mental health care resources and increased accessibility. Dr. Geoffrey Reed, a member of the Columbia faculty in the Department of Psychiatry, and his network of collaborators around the world have reported “massive premature discharge of psychiatric patients, prohibited family visits, cancellation of services, restricted transfer of patients between hospitals, reduction of out-patient follow-ups, lack of routine mental health care” (Malapani). New circumstances such as social isolation, the passing of loved ones, the loss of a job, and the fear that comes with uncertainty can trigger or aggravate pre-existing mental health conditions. Additionally, according to WHO, COVID-19 itself can lead to mental and neurological complications such as strokes, delirium, and agitation.
COVID-19 and wide-spread quarantining has had a major impact on college students in particular. A study conducted at a public university in the United States found that 71% of the student population had an increase in stress and anxiety as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Personally, the fact that almost all of my classes are online hindered my learning capabilities, increased my stress, and decreased my social interactions. I have also keenly felt the loss of meeting up with friends and attending student organization meetings. Many other college students have lost their jobs and some even have lost their homes. Important events such as commencement ceremonies have been canceled, and our futures feel uncertain. Furthermore, many students have lost their on-campus support systems.
In order to meet the mental health needs of students and the rest of our population, it is apparent that access to resources must be improved. Some of the ways colleges can help their students include providing free mental health screenings, expanding counseling services, and incorporating wellness components into classes. Companies can support their employees by providing well-being services such as facilitating yoga classes, bringing counselors onsite, or providing virtual care options. Insurance companies, hospitals, and other health care entities can make care more affordable by investing more in mental health resources, lowering copays, or making screenings free.
Additionally, it is important to spread awareness of mental health conditions and resources and reduce stigma. Some of the things college students can do to help spread awareness and reduce stigma include encouraging honest and open conversations with friends and family, opening up about their own experience with mental health, educating themselves about mental illness, volunteering with mental health organizations, and using social media to share resources.
There is still a lot to be done when it comes to mental health care. However, it is important to keep trying to increase accessibility. Like the US Surgeon General, David Satcher, said, “There is no health without mental health.”
Edited by Ria Parikh and Abbey Tan