By Roger Flanders & Julio Sanchez
Diane, a fourth-year public relations major who did not want to reveal her full name, said she has been dealing with personal issues aside from the coronavirus pandemic. She is not alone in her struggles, as the staggering events of 2020 such as the election, COVID-19 and uncertainties regarding employment have affected college students across the country.
“Unfortunately, this meant that my anxiety and depression got out of control to the point where I neglected a lot of my school and home responsibilities,” Diane said.
Despite the many stressors students are experiencing, Counseling and Psychological Services at Long Beach State has seen a decrease in students taking advantage of the program this year, according to Director Bongjoo Hwang.
In October of 2019, CAPS saw 561 students in 1,512 sessions, while the program saw just 386 students across 1,393 sessions this October.
Hwang said he feels this decrease may be due to the shift in the method of counseling, as CAPS has been holding sessions virtually to accommodate students since CSULB’s transition to virtual instruction in March.
“It may take more sessions to help the students via Zoom counseling than in-person counseling,” Hwang said. “Or students need more support from counselors during this COVID-19 time.”
As the coronavirus pandemic has caused many students to return home for the fall 2020 semester, some CAPS staff said they believe that their services are going unused because students may be unaware of the program.
Hwang said that counselors also suspect that negative stigmas surrounding mental health prevent students from putting their own well-being first.
“I believe seeking help from us can be very helpful for many of our students, but receiving mental health counseling may not be the main priority to some students,” Hwang said.
In 2019, nearly 90% of college counseling center directors reported an increase in students seeking services, according to a survey by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors. According to the 2019 report from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Pennsylvania State University, more than 200,000 college students across 163 institutions have shown an increased rate of suicide attempts, self injury, depression, anxiety and traumatic experiences.
Research done by McKinsey and Company shows that the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in students struggling to keep up with their schoolwork, minority students in particular, and “the average student could fall seven months behind academically.”
Hwang said that there are fewer counseling resources outside of the university due to coronavirus-imposed lockdowns, “thus, connecting students to those services has been more challenging.”
With just 15 counselors to serve CSULB’s 39,000 students, CAPS launched a series of consultation meetings called “Let’s Talk” in an effort to ease the staff’s workload. “Let’s Talk” provides drop-in sessions specifically for the LGBTQ community on campus, students experiencing COVID-19-induced stress, students of color and first-year college or transfer students.
Along with these 45 to 50-minute drop-in appointments, CAPS provides one-on-one counselor sessions to inform students of the various treatment methods offered by the university.
According to CAPS counselor Nidia Moran, students seeking counseling typically average about four to six sessions but tend to wait about a week to meet for the first session.
“Since the fall semester started, I haven’t been able to say that I’ve had a light week,” Moran said. “We wanted to bridge the gap between the program and the students since they can no longer ask questions in person.”
She said she feels that students who may have been hesitant to take advantage of CAPS prior to this semester have benefitted from participating in counseling services online.
“Having virtual sessions actually make it more accessible to students, and there is less stigma due to it being more private and discreet,” Moran said.
Although there are fewer students making use of the program this semester, Moran said there is still a high demand for counseling sessions. The fall 2020 term has seen a weekly average of three to four students seeking assistance from CAPS who have not used the program in prior semesters, Moran said.
With instruction being held mainly online, many students traveled back home and out of state to continue their education and are thus unable to make use of CAPS as it is a California-licensed program. CAPS staff are, however, able to refer such students to resources in their area.
Hwang said the CAPS program will continue to provide workshops and consultations to students through virtual meetings.
“While the semester continues, both students and CAPS staff members will have to persevere in order to finish the year strong,” Hwang said. “CAPS is working to provide the best of their services for students in need during a tense and stressful worldwide pandemic.”