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OSU psychology expert explains how college students are affected differently by the COVID-19 pandemic

Nov 3, 2020, 1:42 PM
In a CDC study looking at mental health during the pandemic, 18-to-24 year olds reported struggling...
In a CDC study looking at mental health during the pandemic, 18-to-24 year olds reported struggling with anxiety and depression, an increase in substance abuse and seriously considering suicide more than any other age group. Credit: KPTV

CORVALLIS, Oregon (KPTV) — The COVID-19 pandemic affects everyone differently, and that includes students in college.

“I think if you think about developmentally where 18-to-24 year olds are at, one of the really important developmental tasks is connecting and obviously because of the pandemic, that’s been really hard to do,” said Ian Kellems.

Kellems is the Executive Director of Counseling and Psychological Services at Oregon State University.

“I think a lot of people are anxious,” said Kellems. “I think it’s hitting young people pretty hard.”

Yet Kellems said he’s actually seen a decrease in students using mental health services at OSU. He said that’s consistent with national trends right now, but it’s likely to change.

“We know from mental health data around natural disasters, that it’s usually about a six-month lag between when the disaster hits and people are actually in a place to reach out and access services and since we’re still in the middle of this pandemic, I fully expect that there will be a third mental health wave,” he said.

In a CDC study looking at mental health during the pandemic, 18-to-24 year olds reported struggling with anxiety and depression, an increase in substance abuse and seriously considering suicide more than any other age group.

“It’s a time in life when many major mental health issues first emerge and so it’s really this critical, developmental time period, and so students are going through that and so it’s really also this time period in life where things can go either way for some students and so it’s really critical that if you get the support that you need, that it can really set you up for success later in life,” said Kellems.

Kellems said OSU still offers all of its normal mental health services, like individual counseling, group counseling and after hour crisis care. Most of it is through Zoom now.

They’re also regularly giving students tips on how to cope.

“I think staying connected with friends and family is critical, whether that be virtual or in safe, socially distanced ways, staying connected,” said Kellems. “We also know exercise is a huge part of mental health and can have a positive impact and we know that people are exercising less because of the pandemic and so I think making efforts to exercise, to eat healthy, to take care of yourselves, getting your flu shot, things like that, very pragmatic things will make a big difference in terms of student’s mental health.”

Kellems also pointed out that students are dealing with more than just COVID-19, bringing up the wildfires, racial challenges and the election.

He encourages any students struggling to reach out for extra support and know there are resources available on campus.

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OSU psychology expert explains how college students are affected differently by the COVID-19 pandemic