Like many other students, Gregory Koppel, a UCC welding student, has experienced an increase in anxiety during his first year of college that has been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. Koppel is a U.S. Navy veteran who decided to take on the challenge of college right after leaving the military. By entering college right after the military, Koppel as a veteran was in a transition phase that has statistically been dangerous because veterans are at a higher risk of suicide within one year of leaving the military.
Mental health for college students overall has also been declining during the pandemic, especially in their first year as stress, depression, anxiety, trauma and suicidal thoughts have been increasing. The Healthy Minds Network, a set of research studies done by Boston University, found that 83% of over 33,000 U.S. students interviewed said their mental health negatively impacted their schoolwork.
College students are now considered the most at risk population in the pandemic for mental health issues.
The increasing expectations on students mixed with increasing financial and emotional problems during the pandemic are causing anxiety in students to rise. “Going to school with anxiety feels like you are starting further behind to begin with,” Koppel says.
Koppel expressed just how much his mental health impacts his schoolwork. During the current term, he is anxious to go to face-to-face courses because of the exposure to COVID-19, but his courses require him to attend in person. His courses are especially difficult because students are unable to quarantine since the course length is only 3 weeks long, even though multiple students in class tested positive for COVID-19. “Missing five to seven days of a three-week course will cause you to fail.” Koppel says.
Loneliness is another feeling that Koppel expressed as impacting his college experience. Dealing with the Veterans Affairs offices, school, and new finances has left him very little time to interact with other students in a helpful way.
Most students, like Koppel, have a clear desire for impactful time with fellow students during their first year of college, but because of COVID-19 students are failing to create strong connections and bonds. Koppel stated that he does not know what half of the people around him look like even though they are in class together because of the masks and lack of nonverbal communication. Interacting with other students during class has deteriorated due to not being able to read facial expressions or other forms of natural human communication. The welcoming feeling that the college used to have has been harder to find, Koppel said.
On top of the anxiety and loneliness that so many college students must deal with now, Koppel as a veteran student is faced with additional problems that civilian students don’t have. Dealing with the Veterans Affairs department for healthcare, disabilities, and financial compensation is time consuming and can be frustrating. The public rarely sees the amount of effort it takes to simply receive VA healthcare. Veterans must painstakingly file disability claims, wait to receive a disability rating and show up to the seemingly endless appointments that the VA schedules between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Scheduling conflicts with school and work are common for veterans, then add in the additional appointments, paperwork and phone calls veterans must make to continue receiving help. This work can eat up most of their time. “I spend about 10 hours on campus attending class, working on projects or doing homework. I spend about another four to six hours a day dealing with the VA and appointments” Koppel said. In a 24-hour period, that only leaves him about 8 hours to eat, spend time on himself, participate in hobbies, and rest. His current schedule also impairs his opportunity to find a job because of the timing conflicts.
Koppel thinks it is imperative that students seek help when overwhelmed “Students that are noticing mental health problems should seek help if they have the time to because it will help a lot. If you cannot, at least try to find someone else to help you through it,” Koppel said. Veteran’s representatives at UCC can be found in the LaVerne Murphy Student Center building. Ask for Ann Abel. A veterans study hall is available that has computers, printers and computer paper next to the T.O.P. office in the educational support building. The Roseburg VA can be contacted at 541-440-1000, and the Veterans Crisis line is 1-800-273-8255.
Any UCCstudent experiencing mental health issues can reach out to UCC wellness counselor Hanna Culbertson at 541-440-7896 or Hanna.Culbertson@umpqua.edu or make an appointment with Culbertson through Advisor Trac. Students must sign into Advisor Trak with their 800 number and password, select “search availabilities,” then “wellness counseling” to make an appointment. Therapists such as Lynne Siqueland, of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, said to get counseling as soon as anxiety starts to get in the way of things that you want to do. If anyone has thoughts of suicide or self-harm, they can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
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This is one of eight articles in our special series on mental health. For the rest of the articles in this series, select any of the links below:
Editorial – One stress factor we have control over: our diet
Trapped Behind the Mask: Neurodivergent student shares college pandemic struggles
Students, staff identify mental health treatment barriers amid rising need
Student Assistance Plan offers free virtual counseling services for UCC students, their families and roommates
Science-based coping strategies reduce mental stress, improve mental health
Poor mental health is costing employers billions
UCC students share their anxiety coping strategies