Art by Leah Bae
One in five students claimed their mental health has “significantly worsened” during COVID-19, and over 80% of college students claimed COVID-19 has “negatively impacted” their mental health, according to an Active Minds survey in April.
In spring 2019, before the COVID-19 Pandemic, Pepperdine’s Student Health Survey reported that over 65% of students had felt overwhelming anxiety, 55% had felt things were hopeless and 44% had felt “so depressed it was difficult to function.” Pepperdine is also known to have a higher rate of loneliness than the national average according to the National College Health Assessment.
“I think we’re gonna see a spike in loneliness with all of this, which, I feel is kind of self-explanatory,” said Amanda Fricker, Student Affairs Intern. “Even though we’re seeing each other face to face virtually, it’s not the same as being physically face to face.”
To combat the effects of worsening mental health and loneliness, many studies have shown the importance of developing resilience skills. Resilience skills are important because mental resilience is essential for individuals to function, according to the Wall Street Journal. To help students cope during this time, Vice President for Student Affairs Connie Horton said she hopes both students and faculty will embody the message of Resilience this semester through the current virtual health, wellness and spiritual offerings.
“Resilience matters now,” Horton wrote in a follow-up email. “Healthy cognitions remind us ‘This too shall pass’ when it seems the pandemic is going on forever.”
Health and Wellness
The Health and Wellness Departments at Pepperdine consist of the Student Health Center, the Counseling Center, Office of Title IX and Resilience-Informed Skills Education (RISE).
Due to state restrictions, state-licensed medical providers are not allowed to administer care to patients outside of state bounds. Therefore, the Student Health Center and the Counseling Center continue to offer both in-person and virtual Telehealth appointments only for students residing in California. Along with free-of-charge appointments, the Counseling Center is offering counseling groups, such as Thrive!, Understanding Self and Others and Finding Your Calm exclusively for in-state students.
Nivla Fitzpatrick, director of the Counseling Center, said the Temporary Reciprocity to Ensure Access to Treatment (TREAT) Act is being introduced in Congress. This would allow temporary reciprocity for health care professionals in all states, allowing therapists or health care professionals to treat students outside of their licensed jurisdiction.
“When COVID went down back in March, many states across the country set up emergency kind of guidelines that allowed therapists to practice across state lines, but those were 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, and they’re all drying up now,” Fitzpatrick said.
In the meantime, all students, whether domestic or international, have the option to attend support groups such as the International Student Support Group, the Recovery Peer Support Group, the Graduate Student Support Group and the Black Student Support Group. The Counseling Center offers other psycho-educational workshops as well, including Healthy Coping, Alcohol and COVID: What Do We Know?, Deep Breath: Skills for Anxiety Management and a drop-in meditation group.
Although the Counseling Center has some resources for out-of-state students, junior Alicia Yu said she thinks there should be more resources and help for students staying at home, especially for those experiencing difficult family dynamics, F.O.M.O. or isolation.
Senior Allison Kwan said in the past she would usually hear of the Counseling Center’s resources by word of mouth, and keeping up-to-date with the new Instagram accounts for Pepperdine is sometimes hard. However, Kwan said she thinks it is encouraging to see more resources and groups being offered during this time, especially for Black students.
The Counseling Center’s Instagram provides resources and advice for students dealing with issues ranging from socio-political stress to Zoom exhaustion. Its website and Instagram featured a Responding to Racism section, where a variety of articles and mental health resources exist for Black and African-American students. Photo courtesy of the Counseling Center
The Health and Wellness Departments all have their own student-run social media accounts on Instagram, where they feature a plethora of advice, self-help techniques, as well as techniques, announcements and information on future events.
Pepperdine also has the Student Wellness Advisory Board (SWAB), a student organization that invites all students to get involved with health and wellness and potentially earn volunteer hours. The organization is comprised of student representatives, faculty advisers and students, and it has three branches—Healthy Minds with the Counseling Center, Healthy Bodies with the Pepperdine Health Center, and Healthy Communities with the office of Title IX.
“We’re pretty excited to just see how we can adapt to this virtual community and still support students in as many ways as possible,” said senior and Co-President of SWAB Emma Mattingly.
Along with promoting Pepperdine’s current Health and Wellness resources and encouraging mental health awareness, SWAB also monitors student feedback relating to each of these departments.
Anyone is allowed to become a member. First-year Jackson Buck said he decided to join SWAB after attending the organization’s presentation during virtual New Student Orientation (NSO). Although he was initially hesitant to join an extra-curricular, Buck said he thought it was important to be a part of an organization dedicated to helping students.
Part of the Title IX Office, Pepperdine’s Student Care Team is another resource available for students. According to its website, the Student Care Team still provides counseling, academic support, housing and emergency relief for students during the COVID-19 crisis. If students are looking to receive support through the Student Care Team, they should reach out to the office via email to contact a case manager.
Sense of Belonging
According to the Mayo Clinic, a sense of belonging is crucial for physical and mental health.
University Chaplain Sara Barton said finding a sense of belonging will be tough during COVID, not just for first-year students but for everyone.
“Think about the people who were studying abroad last year, or, you know, think about transfers,” Barton said. “There also may be a student who’s in South Carolina, but all of their friends are together in California.”
While it’s hard to navigate social and emotional needs online, Barton said Pepperdine students have opportunities to take advantage of, including spiritual mentoring.
For the Spiritual Mentoring Program, the Spiritual Life Programs office pairs a student mentee with a faculty member. Barton said the office already has a list of mentors ready, but students can also reach out to someone they already know.
“Students probably think of belonging as peer-to-peer, but part of belonging is also connecting to faculty and staff at Pepperdine,” Barton said. “Our highest number of students who have signed up for mentoring are first-year students; that’s really promising, and I think that shows they’re already seeking belonging at Pepperdine.”
Barton said another good way to seek belonging is by joining a small group through Zoom.
“These groups are exploring spiritual and biblical topics, and that’s a great chance to get to know others outside of the classroom,” Barton said. “I know a lot of people are Zoomed out and tired, but this allows you to explore topics that help you in your spiritual, emotional and mental life.”
Barton said the Office of the Chaplain still offers spiritual care to students and addresses everyday concerns, including virtual hospital visits or clergy support in an emergency situation.
“We want students to know that chaplains are available to support them spiritually and emotionally with a ministry of shared presence, listening and support,” Barton said. “Maybe that’s just what they need right now during the pandemic and distance learning.
For additional spiritual activities, Barton said she encourages students to attend The Gathering on Thursday evenings at 7 p.m., PDT, which the Well, Word Up, Celebration Chapel and KCM co-host. Barton said there are also a speaker and optional discussion groups following the service.
“By hearing Pepperdine people and singing and worshiping, we are hoping [that] will give a sense of belonging to a spiritual community,” Barton said.
To illustrate the strength of the Pepperdine Community, Pepperdine students, faculty and staff performed the song “Blessing” by Elevation Worship. Barton said this collaborative effort was intended to promote the message of belonging during a remote semester with the message of God’s love and blessings for all.
Along with other virtual spiritual life programs, the Office of the Chaplain also has launched a new resource called “Practicing Faith,” a step-by-step hub of “curated spiritual practices designed to guide you through practices of faith and community,” according to the website.
Ultimately, the health, wellness and spiritual departments at Pepperdine hope students will embody the message of resilience this semester by seeking assistance and utilizing resources Horton said.
Pepperdine’s resources represent a joint effort promoting Resilience-Based Skill Education (RISE), an initiative to promote resilience. Horton said the program centers around helping students develop physical, cognitive, spiritual, social, service and life skills.
“I think the really beautiful thing about resilience is that we all have a story in our lives where we have been stretched or been challenged, but we’re able to bounce back and get back up,” Stacey Lee said, the Health, Wellness & Resilience Education Program Coordinator said. “You’re not alone in your struggles, and oftentimes if you are vulnerable, others will have a story that they can reflect back to you to encourage you.”
Pepperdine students are not alone with the struggles surrounding an online semester; the majority of four-year universities in California are primarily online, according to a study by Davidson College. Learning to RISE with the help and care of the Pepperdine Community, however, will be an important step in overcoming this difficult season
“My big message would be to take care of yourself so that you can continue to take care of other people,” Lee said. “And you can’t support other people, or even yourself, unless you’re giving yourself the same care and attention that you would give to your friends and loved ones.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255.
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