COVID-19 increases demand for mental health resources on Kent campus

Madison Goerl, Reporter

A Kent State Reddit user posted suicidal threats in January, reigniting the conversation about college student’s mental health during COVID-19.

“I am very lonely and I don’t have any friends and I want to die,” the user wrote. “Are there any good tall buildings or sources to get materials/chemicals for suicide? If so, please PM me. The CARES program doesn’t help.”

The comment section included resources and kind words, but many students shared similar struggles brought on by the pandemic. These individuals had to redirect focus toward personal health and safety.

“What we know with the pandemic is that research has suggested that isolation and a lot of the other stressors have hit people pretty hard and in different ways,” CAPS Outreach Coordinator Jennifer Knott said.

Self-isolation, losing employment and fear of getting sick are all added stressors, Knott said.

Independence that comes with college also presents many challenges. This is the first time that many students are responsible for practicing time management strategies and boundary setting.

“The problem is my dorm on campus, I live on campus, I go to school and campus and that’s part of where it gets difficult for me to break away from my work and why I isolate a bit,” Freshman public relations major Grace Kindl said. “I’m in the place where I go to classes, and I work all the time. So, it’s kind of hard to shut my brain off.”

Kent State’s CAPS program is equipped to help students overcome these stressors, but it can be difficult to get help to online users.

“I think it’s challenging when they are anonymous posts and I think the important thing here is making sure people know what the resources are on campus and making sure that those resources are available and people know where to find them,” Knott said.

Local and national resources can be found on the KSU Mobile app under “Step up, Speak out.” Some resources include CAPS After Hour Support, the Psychological Clinic at Kent Hall, the Counseling Center at White Hall and the Townhall II 24-Hour Crisis Helpline.

In response to the increase in demand of mental health needs, Kent State has focused on growing the mental health programs and providing more robust services offered, Knott said.

Compared to her time here as a student, Knott said Kent State has made resources more accessible by creating the KSU Mobile app.

“I think there is a broader acceptance of those who are struggling with mental health, and I see more efforts to destigmatize and encourage others to seek help when they need it,” she said.

Knott has seen efforts continue to expand after her return in September.

“CAPS has grown in the services that we are providing and the staff we have,” Knott said. “A handful of other people and I came on board in 2021 as part of the university’s efforts to expand mental health services on campus for students.”

With this growth, CAPS can offer different levels of care, Knott said. Skills series and workshops are offered throughout the semester for any student currently enrolled. These workshops focus on topics such as assertiveness, boundaries, meditation and self-care.

If a student feels that what they are experiencing is going beyond what they feel is manageable, or typical, they can contact the CAPS office and get set up with an initial consultation. From there, a clinician will make recommendations for next steps, Knott said.

The first step to helping someone who is struggling is identifying warning signs. This may include frequently self-isolating, experiencing uncharacteristic mood swings, giving away things that seem important to them and increasing substance use, she said.

If you are noticing these signs, the best thing to do is talk to them. Point out what you’ve been noticing and ask them about it, Knott said.

If you feel like you can’t ask that question. find someone who can, she said. CAPS wants to be able to then get them connected to professional resources if they are.

“If people have an immediate concern about their friend’s safety, then we would want them to call 911,” Knott said. “If they do that, we always recommend they ask for a [crisis intervention team] officer because those officers have specific training in how to interact with people who may be in a mental health crisis.”

Many students believe their struggles aren’t severe enough to seek help. Knott recommends CAPS’ skill series and workshops for these students.

“That is exactly why we created those. They are more of these targeted prevention services that anyone can access,” Knott said. “If someone is thinking, ‘Maybe I’m a little anxious, but I don’t know if I need to get therapy,’ there is a skill series we have specifically on anxiety and creating a toolbox to deal with anxiety.”