Mental Health and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Courtesy of FIU’s Counseling & Psychological Services

By Juliana Narvaez/ Contributing Writer

With the coronavirus pandemic quickly spreading around the world in late 2019, everyone had to shift their daily lives to one of social isolation and online zoom meetings.

From students to employees, everyone felt the effects brought on by COVID-19. Although many students specifically at FIU felt the pandemic was an opportunity for them to grow, others felt devastating mental health effects.

“For students with underlying depression or anxiety, the stressors associated with (the) pandemic could worsen…” explains FIU’s Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) Director, Todd Lengnick. 

“For students who are also caregivers, having children or elderly parents at home all the time can increase their responsibility and stress considerably. Finally, job insecurity and job loss has significantly impacted the living situations and wellbeing of some students.”

With so many stressors influencing students’ mental health, CAPS  managed to help students during a time when face-to-face contact wasn’t viable. 

Through various collaborative online events, students were able to learn more about different mental health topics and different resources available to them virtually such as online self-help material like CAPS Talks and RIO Online.

Because social distancing meant many students could not see their friends or family, CAPS group therapy sessions and workshops allowed for students to receive some type of social interaction with their peers.

“We moved groups and workshops online to increase student contact and connection with one another to help reduce isolation and ultimately other symptoms like depression and distress.” Dr. Lengnick states.

Aside from the pandemic, the stress of elections and nationwide protests also brought up many emotions and discourse amongst the South Florida community.

“We created online healing and learning spaces for students affected by and wanting to engage in discussions about racial equity and social justice,” Dr. Lengnick says.

FIU’s Student Health and Wellness (SHW) Administration produced a Resource Guide each month “for students that highlighted available services, events and self-help resources, and they also created an online calendar of supportive services and events.”

However, now that the emergency phase of the pandemic is leaving, many students are adjusting to return back to the world. 

Although Dr. Lengnick believes returning to “normal” will be generally accepted by a vast majority of students, he highlights how there are individuals who suffer from social anxiety that may have mixed feelings about this.

“There will also be varied levels of anxiety by simply being around other people without knowing who is vaccinated—especially for those who have an underlying health condition or who have vulnerable people at home,” he explains.

To offer help to students who may relate to these feelings, “ CAPS is also helping spearhead a mandate from the Florida Board of Governors (BOG) for faculty and staff to complete the Kognito training.” 

Kognito, an online training resource meant to teach staff, faculty, and students how to identify and help students who may be in distress and connect them with a counselor allows for anyone to learn how to help out someone in need. 

With mental health being such an important part of students’ overall health, it’s vital to recognize the resources available to all FIU students who may be suffering from mental health related issues.

CAPS offers a variety of resources such as “E-workshops, Therapy Assistance Online (TAO), Kognito, RIO Online, Online Screenings, Podcasts, CAPS Talks, Group Therapy, Individual Therapy, Couples Therapy, Testing and Assessments, and Psychiatric Services.”

To schedule an appointment at CAPS, students should call 305-348-2277. To learn more about services offered at the clinic, be sure to visit the CAPS website, and remember, “You are not alone.”

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