College students are struggling with increased rates of mental health issues during the pandemic, according to a recent study by the American College Health Association.

Students reported increased psychological stress and loneliness, and 1 in 4 had considered suicide, according to the study.

Another recent study by BMC Psychology confirmed this trend, adding the pandemic worsened mental health by straining family relationships, increasing health anxiety and impacting students’ ability to perform well in school.

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University of Wisconsin students are no exception to these trends, UW Professor Dr. Richard Davidson, who has a joint appointment in the Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry, said. 

The uncertainty of the pandemic, coupled with reduced social contact and interaction with peers during lockdown, has led college students to feel more anxious and depressed than before, Davidson said.

“With regard to students in particular, the challenges have been especially acute because a fundamental aspect of college life is community, and there have been dramatic disruptions to the ability to form community during COVID,” Davidson said. 

With high vaccination rates and a robust COVID-19 protocol, UW has been able to offer more in-person opportunities for students during the 2021-22 school year, according to the UW COVID-19 Response website.

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This might allow for a greater sense of community, but after lockdown, many students are struggling to transition from online to in-person instruction this semester, Davidson said. For many UW students, the return to in-person activities has been stressful and overwhelming, contributing to elevated rates of mental health issues, according to Davidson.

To combat these issues, University Health Services provides mental health resources for students, according to the UHS website. 

“UHS is great,” a UW sophomore who chose to remain anonymous said. 

They started meeting with their mental provider halfway through their first semester at UW and continued to meet with the same provider since then, enjoying the relationship they’ve formed. 

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UHS offers individual counseling, group counseling, psychiatric care, 24-hour crisis lines and services specific to marginalized groups like queer students and students of color. These services are confidential and free or low-cost for UW students, which is crucial for many students, the sophomore said. 

“It’s great that there isn’t any cost for the services,” they said. “I’m already under financial stress and don’t want to have to be under more stress for a service that I need.”

In addition to the services provided by UHS, many UW student organizations are dedicated to supporting students with mental health issues, according to the Wisconsin Involvement Network.

Ask.Listen.Save. is one such student organization, hosting mental health awareness programs and providing suicide prevention resources for students on the UW campus, according to the organization’s website. In addition, the group values equality highly, and works to connect students in marginalized communities to resources specific to their needs.

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“If there are ever any gaps in the resources we provide, we are more than willing to fill them and will work with students to find them the resources that suit them best,” Ask.Listen.Save said in an email statement to The Badger Herald. 

To supplement on-campus mental health resources at UW, Davidson suggested taking advantage of the variety of online resources students have at their disposal. 

For instance, UHS offers Silvercloud, a self-guided mental health app designed to help students develop cognitive behavioral skills, according to the UHS website.

Similarly, Davidson encourages students to download his free Healthy Minds Program app, which he helped develop. The app offers quick, podcast-style lessons, along with interactive ways to practice mental wellness skills, according to the app website. 

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“Even five minutes makes a big difference, while walking, commuting or exercising,” Davidson said.

Though the pandemic has increased the prevalence of mental health issues for college students, there’s a silver lining — it has also facilitated open conversations about mental health, Ask.Listen.Save said. 

By having such conversations, people can become more mindful of their mental wellbeing and more confident in asking for help when they need it, Ask.Listen.Save said. 

Gradually, the stigma surrounding mental health is fading, both on the UW campus and around the world, Davidson said. 

But there’s still work to be done in this regard, Davidson said. As winter approaches and the pandemic continues, it is important to keep in mind that nobody is alone in their struggles with mental health, he said.

“If we’re all honest with ourselves, we’re all suffering,” Davidson said. “Some people more than others, but we’re all suffering. But when we can have this self-transcendent purpose, that is an elixir for well-being.”