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COVID-19: Mental health worsened during pandemic, but fewer college students reached out for help

By Stephanie Wiechmann, IPR News | Published on in Ball State, Education, Health
Ball State's counseling center saw a surge in students asking for help in fall of 2019, then a decrease in fall 2020. (Photo: Ball State University on Facebook)

National studies show mental health challenges have increased because of the coronavirus pandemic – and more so in college-age people.  But, as IPR’s Stephanie Wiechmann reports, college counseling centers saw a decline in those seeking services at the same time.

The American Psychological Association has conducted annual surveys of mental health since 2007.  During the pandemic years, it showed that while all ages of people had increased stress due to COVID-19, numbers were greatest in college-age people.

Bill Betts leads Ball State University’s Counseling Center.

“When you take that and look at [Generation] Z, which is our students, 45 percent of Gen Z adults said they do not know how to manage the stress they feel due to coronavirus.  And that’s this year, that’s this fall.”

Read More: COVID-19 Worsens Mental Health, Sparks Overdoses

He says despite that increase, the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State found that, in a national survey, university counseling centers saw a 32 percent average drop in students seeking help during the fall of 2020.  Ball State’s center, itself, saw a 25 percent decrease.

Betts says increased telehealth allowed some college students to stay with their therapists at home.  But for others –

“I actually had some students say this to me: they felt like their concerns weren’t serious enough.  And so what they said is, ‘Look, I didn’t get COVID.  No one in my family died.  And so, yes, I’m suffering and I’m miserable, but I don’t want to take a spot from somebody else who really needs this service.’”

Before the pandemic in 2019, Ball State saw a 40 percent increase in students wanting help at the beginning of the school year. Betts says the average number of therapy sessions per student also increased.