By Jade Francis

Image of Maura Weir courtesy of herself.

The world has been drastically impacted by the Coronavirus. The pandemic’s webbing of complications has churned up much panic, especially when one’s mental health needs a remedy. Changes in everyday life have left people feeling increasingly distressed, yet there are resources available to stymie the greater loss of order that the pandemic has created.

Katie Pecora—a licensed clinical social worker who has been so for sixteen years since her graduation from James Madison University in 2003, and then the procurement of her master’s in social work from Boston College in 2005—has led a COVID-19 support group for students. “People are experiencing anxiety in a much more physical way than they had before,” said Pecora. She has noticed that individuals with the label of ‘worrier’ are now feeling overwhelming anxiety in many physical ways since the start of the pandemic. Some physical symptoms include shaking, upset stomachs, and rapid heartbeats.

Anxiety around relationships—whether it’s family, friends, or romantic— is another increase that Pecora has seen. People have different ideas about how to handle the issues surrounding the pandemic, and many experience apprehensions about these permanent effects in all relationships. The ideal plan is becoming an attendant of a wellness group and meeting with specialists beyond campus if possible.

Maura Weir, the Senior Academic Counselor and organizer of the Student Wellness Center at Cape Cod Community College (4Cs), is passionate about improving mental health in the college setting that she works in. “There’s an increase in mental health issues per student as opposed to before,” said Weir. “Maybe they just came for one issue, but now they’re presenting with several issues.” Anxiety and stress are incredibly common in an educational setting, but the

pandemic is adding another factor to this angst. Weir noticed that students’ sources of anxiety and stress are different than before. Given the many restrictions in place on behalf of this pandemic, it can be so difficult for families to access the necessary resources. This has been noted as the most common and immense issue to augment anxiety at this time.

The Student Wellness Office had been set up in 2019 as an assistance to mental health on campus. The office deals with many things, such as making outside referrals to agencies, assisting people with the food pantry, helping students search for housing, and referring people to specialists. They also work with the O’Neill Disability Center on campus to ensure that there are accommodations where they are needed.

Since the pandemic started, the Student Wellness Office has seen a change in its usage among students. “Self-referrals might have gone down,” said Weir, “but referrals from people on campus may have gone up.” Now that most classes are strictly online, with most students being away from the campus, it can be difficult to effectively present this resource to those in need. Weir noticed that many of the students with whom she has conversed with about their concerns have continued to return for guidance. Email has been the central form for communication between the Wellness Center and students regarding this resource, but not all students read their emails. Referrals beyond this format are vital and are encouraged by wellness members at 4Cs.

The college also has a CALM team. “The CALM program is the college’s crisis and life management team,” said Weir. “And that’s a group of people who work on the campus that get together once a week. If a faculty of staff member makes a referral about a student, they’re concerned about it goes to the CALM team.” The team will then decide how they will intervene and help with a student’s struggle(s) before they reach a point of crisis.

The CALM team does not provide their own counseling, but they had received a record number of referrals in 2020 that is still climbing now. There are so many additional outside factors contributing to mental health, pertaining to the presence of COVID-19 that are difficult to modify. For instance, school can induce much stress in a student’s life, but the demand of learning in a home environment has made it worse for some.

“Given the fact that the pandemic has gone on longer than anyone thought it would,” said Weir. “People are struggling with anxiety, isolation, boredom at home, and I think it’s really important for people to get in the habit of reaching out to other people—whether it be other students, or faculty, or friends, or family—it’s really important to check in with people right now and just make that human connection because I do feel like that is affecting people’s mental health.” Do not be afraid to contact these sources if one finds that all is distressing.