Supporting Today's College Students
There’s no doubt that our college student population has been significantly impacted by the pandemic. This goes for those who entered college in 2020, students in the middle of their college career, new college graduates, and even high school seniors who are preparing to attend college in the fall of 2021. Each individual, no matter where they are in their academic journey, has had to quickly adjust to and cope with changes they never expected. The situation at hand has left students feeling shorted, forgotten, anxious, and even depressed. None of us can truly understand what it’s like to be in their position.
Going off to school is often a time of anticipation and excitement. While an adjustment, it’s also a chance to learn about oneself and foster newfound independence. College is a pivotal time in late adolescence and young adulthood to explore passions, create new relationships, and build a foundation for the future. Parents, educations, mentors, and peers have been well-equipped in the past to support our college students, because it is a territory they often knew. In the past, they were able to glean from their own experiences and education to guide students and offer support. However, the struggles our current college students are going through are completely new.
Now, our college students need us more than ever. They are arguably one of the most affected populations throughout the COVID-era and they need us now. Here are some ways we can help:
Validate, validate, validate: Unless you are currently a college student, you do not personally know what it feels like to experience this situation. Validating feelings is the number one support you can give to someone who needs to feel heard and understood. This population is going through a trying time and they need to know that others care and want to recognize their experiences. Hold off on advice, and just give a listening ear to start with.
Identify areas of control: One of the most difficult parts of the pandemic is feeling like there’s no control over the situation. College students cannot control if they are currently living at home, attending a school that wasn’t their top choice, engaging in classes online, having trouble meeting new friends—the list goes on. However, we can help them find areas they do get to control.
Address basic needs: Encourage focusing on sleeping, eating, and exercise habits. Getting all of these in check will balance the body and mind to help combat stress, worry, and sadness.
Form a routine: If we are out of the swing of things, it can be challenging to get motivated and find a positive outlook. Even amongst all this chaos, we can find ways to add structure to our day. In addition to addressing basic needs, build in time to chat with friends and family, participate in activities for pleasure (doing art, listening to or making music, watching a favorite show), and more. It may feel silly to schedule in activities that may have once been spontaneous but creating this structure will aid in feeling grounded and like there is a handle on life.
Choose your mindset: If someone is really feeling down and hopeless, it can be quite challenging to get out of that spiral. However, if we take the time each day to set our intention, in can be quite powerful to the mind. Saying to oneself, “I can do this today,” or “I can find joy in ___,” can make a large difference in how we perceive a situation.
Seek professional help: It is no surprise that the mental health of college students has been affected by the pandemic. Encourage and offer professional help as an option. Asking for help is hard. It can make all the difference to normalize reaching out to the counseling center on campus or finding a therapist to speak to. Phrasing means everything too. This is a sensitive topic for many people and initiating the conversation through saying, “I know you are going through a tough time. I am here for you and think professional support will be helpful,” can translate in a kind way.
College students have been largely impacted by the pandemic in ways we could have never expected. Reaching out to show that you see them and want to understand their experiences can make a world of difference. Students at this time want to feel heard and supported, and we must do our best to help them through these challenges. If you or a loved one needs support, you can reach Jacqueline Siempelkamp Counseling LLC at 314-704-4058. We can help walk college students through this time.