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Mental health and academic services during COVID

By Davon Johnson

Photo by Davon Johnson

The year 2020 was a different year for many people, as many lost jobs, racial conflict rose and the COVID-19 virus swept the nation. The world essentially shut down, and many lost opportunities to go places while schools and universities were determined to stay open.

The pandemic caused many lasting effects over the last year, like a new school environment for students and staff, along with mental health problems for many.

On the Georgia Southern University Statesboro campus, there have been many attempts to resolve it and help students and faculty get through the mental impact the virus has presented.

“Students are still adjusting to what has become our new normal,” said Riley Melkerson, a student wellness and health promotion graduate assistant. “They are all trying to find a new routine to keep their overall well-being very healthy.”

GShas implemented new mental health care services to help students get through the school year, with many still being added for their benefits.

Recently, the university has awarded a grant to focus specifically on mental health students. This grant will provide additional mental health support. Other benefits that will come from this grant is another counseling office option that is not on campus, expanded psychiatric appointments after referrals from health services or the counseling center, and increased online tools to promote health and well-being.

An app called Campus Well has been added so students can have easy access to school and local resources that have high-quality wellness information for them to access.

Health services is offering appointments through telehealth which students can access through their GS online portal. They are also having rapid testing for symptomatic patients with an appointment.

A counseling center is still an option that students can utilize with sessions that include individual and relationship counseling, solution sections, workshops, training, and anything related to better help students.

“Our office is also offering wellness coaching,” said Melkerson. “It’s basically meeting with one of our wellness coaches to assist students in their current physical and emotional state and make a plan on how to reach their goals.”

Melkerson added that the Eagles Do Right Campaign was also started by her office to remind students of the importance of following the health guidelines.

Despite these benefits, student life is still different for many students. Learning issues are something that students have been struggling with ever since the start of school last fall.

“The pandemic has impacted a lot of students negatively, and I think the adjustment to online classes was the heaviest on a lot of students and most definitely those who are freshmen,” said academic success coach Vernon Scott. “It is a new environment, and they are new to college, so that is just another adjustment they have to make.”

Most classes have upgraded to the option of having face to face at a certain capacity since the spring semester, but many students do not feel engaged with the material as the main option is still to stay home.

Going to classes online through Zoom has made social activities less likely for students and their grades have been impacted because of the lack of physical communication between student and professor.

Jawaun French, a freshmen computer science major, talked about his struggles with his first year at GS and what he has done to help his problems.

“Coming to college you feel free and independent, but this virus has made me uninterested in classes, but one day I got myself up and went to find help,” French said. “I got help from an academic coach, and I’ve been doing better ever since.”

Scheduling and time management along with academic skills are the goals that the academic coaches help students with the most.

Scott Taylor, an academic success coach, spoke about the struggles of scheduling for students and the ways they can make it better.

“It is difficult for students that are transitioning from high school, and it is the first time they’re ever doing it, but what I tell students is to keep a digital calendar and drop all assignments into the calendar.”

He went on to say students should give themselves one to three-day reminders for assignments, so nothing sneaks upon them.

The GS folio page has the option for students to set up their notifications through the website settings, so students will not miss anything from class.

Taking time out of a student’s day for 15 minutes to understand the curriculum is something that many academic coaches encourage students to do to establish a pattern of behavior to focus on schoolwork outside the classroom environment.

For academic skills, the academic success center has tutoring resources that are available where students can schedule an appointment or by walk-in. There are face-to-face and virtual options.

Tutoring is for most core classes but specifically English, history, social sciences and STEM fields.

“We also have workshops for time management, for reading comprehension, writing skills, and a variety of options for students,” said Taylor. “Our success coaching helps develop a plan with SMART goals and layout mile markers for progress.”

With all the options that the university has added, students have been showing signs of improvement as the year has gone on and academics has been one key area that has been developing over that time.

“Throughout the year, I’ve been seeing a lot more progressive actions from students, meaning they are trying to better than last year compared to where they were at the beginning of last fall,” said Scott.

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