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Mental and Behavioral Health

Main Stories

WGBH’s Kirk Carapezza reports on the Healthy Minds Study data from the fall of 2020, which showed that 47% of college students screened positive for symptoms of depression or anxiety, and that the prevalence of mental health distress was up slightly from the previous school year. Sarah K. Lipson, PhD, an assistant professor at the Boston University School of Public Health and co-Principal Investigator of the Healthy Minds Study attributed increased anxiety to “the burnout and monotony of what we’ve been doing for nearly a year now,” citing “what this has actually done to our brains and our neural pathways.

CNN reports that Yale University is offering a variation of its positive psychology class, “The Science of Well Being” to more than 500 low-income high school students across the US for free. The class, which is Yale’s most popular online class ever, will provide students with evidence-based strategies for living a more satisfying life, and present research on how to be happier, feel less stressed and flouriss more. “This is a really challenging time, and that means that students need to learn new strategies to protect their mental health,” said Lauri Santos, Professor of Psychology at Yale and creator of the class. “Our goal is to equip students with scientifically validated strategies for living a more satisfying life, while also creating opportunities for high-striving low-income students and students of color to demonstrate college-readiness.”

In an op-ed in Diverse Education, Dori S. Hutchinson, director of services at the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation at Boston University and Sharon Shapiro, a trustee and community liaison of the Ruderman Family Foundation, a leading disability inclusion organization based in Boston, argue that the disruption caused by COVID-19 has created a framework for a permanent change to campus culture to support mental health, as leaders increasingly recognize the connection between student mental health and their success. “If there is a silver lining to COVID-19, it is that the pain of mental health distress has connected higher education institutions to students who live with mental illness,” they wrote. “But this cannot be the final chapter in the story. Increased prioritization of mental health issues must transcend these times, becoming a permanent fixture on campus.”

The Center for Collegiate Mental Health, a research group based at Pennsylvania State University, released new data last week showing that 33% of students who sought care from their college counseling center during the second half of 2020 said their visit was related to the mental health effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Inside Higher Ed reports on the new data release, which also showed that 65% percent of students who sought services at counseling centers said the pandemic has led to some mental health challenges, and 61% said it affected their “motivation and focus.” Additionally, 60% said the pandemic has caused “loneliness or isolation,” and 59% said it has negatively affected their academics.

Other News

University of Wisconsin is working to enhance services to students experiencing mental health crises, especially in situations that have previously been managed by the UW Police Department. A partnership between UW Health Services, Police Department, Housing and the Dean of Students Office seeks to re-examine current protocols and create a comprehensive plan to combine the resources, strategies and strengths of each department.

According to a University survey, Duke Students felt high levels of loneliness, social isolation and concern about mental health during the fall due to COVID-19. Students of marginalized identities and historically underrepresented backgrounds reported greater stress.

Georgetown University is expanding access to mental health resources for students without access to campus. HoyaWell, a new telehealth resource, offers virtual mental health services to students, including free, on-demand virtual counseling and up to 12 free scheduled counseling sessions for all students.

UNC Chapel Hill Counseling and Psychological Services launched a program to improve students’ ability to engage with therapists of color. The Multicultural Health Program features four Black female therapists that students can request to work with. Opportunities for students of color include group therapy, brief therapy, outreach events and liaison relationships between students and mental health providers.

George Washington University students told the GW Hatchet that they are coping with increased pandemic-related stress and anxiety by leaning on hobbies like chess and yoga.

Maddie Loder, a George Washington University basketball player, founded GW’s chapter of The Hidden Opponent, an organization focused on reducing the stigma around student-athlete mental health. The chapter hopes to serve as a “support group” and “safe space” for student-athletes.

Brookdale Community College declared the college a stigma-free zone, with the goals of raising mental health and substance abuse awareness, promoting the use of inclusive language and encouraging those who are affected to seek services and feel supported.

The University of Minnesota Student Association is working to increase the availability of SAD lights on campus to reduce the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of depression related to changes in seasons.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

The Justice Department withdrew its lawsuit that alleged Yale University violated federal civil-rights law by discriminating against white and Asian-American undergraduate applicants, who the Department claimed faced stricter admissions standards. The action suggests that the Biden administration will take a different approach to policies regarding affirmative action than former President Donald Trump

According to the Boston Globe, enrollment of first-year Black and Latino students at Massachusetts community colleges declined by one-third this past fall, replicating national trends that reflect the disproportionate economic distress of pandemic experienced by communities of color. Carlos Santiago, the state’s higher education commissioner said that enrollment this year will depend on whether high schools can make sure that students have the assistance needed to enroll in college. “I don’t want to be here thinking about a generation of students that we lost because we let this go,” Santiago said.

Two Florida State University faculty members have launched “Diversity Talks,” a show centered around diversity, inclusion and intercultural competence at FSU.

A bill recently passed in the Virginia House would require the state’s five public colleges and universities to detail their ties to slavery and establish scholarships or economic development programs to benefit communities descended from enslaved people who worked on their grounds.

Student Success

The Washington Post reports that this summer, Morehouse College, a historically Black men’s college, will launch an online undergraduate program for adult learners with some college credits under their belt. According to the Census Bureau, there are more than 3 million Black men in the US with college credits that never finished their degree. Morehouse is hoping to bring back at least 500 men within the next five years. “They had a desire to finish their degree, but didn’t have the ability to stop what they were doing in the world and go back to school,” Morehouse President David A. Thomas said “We owe it to the world to amplify our impact and that means … impacting the world without the world having to come to us. This is us going to the world.”

In an op-ed in The Chronicle, John J. Lennon, a contributing editor for Esquire magazine who has been incarcerated for 20 years, wrote about the lifting of the Pell Grant ban for prisoners. “It’s impossible to understand this opportunity without knowing how much was lost when Pell Grants were taken away.” he writes. “It’s worth the investment. Not just because it would help prisoners get jobs, lower recidivism, and save states money on incarceration costs.” Through telling his own story, Lennon shines a light on the human aspect of this policy change, explaining the important role that receiving an education has played in his life in prison.

Higher Ed Dive reports that California Governor Gavin Newsom recently proposed guaranteed admission to the state’s four-year universities for some community college graduates. Under the plan, starting in 2023, first-time, first-year community college students would be able to select either a California State University or University of California campus to reserve a spot.

In an op-ed for Oregon Live, Tim Cook, president of Clackamas Community College, Mark Mitsui, president of Portland Community College, and Lisa Skari, president of Mt. Hood Community College call on “Oregon’s elected leaders to make a down payment on our recovery and invest in community colleges.” They argue that community colleges are the state’s economic engine, graduating skilled workers who “will be essential to ride out the pandemic-created recession and get the state back on stable economic footing.” Cook, Mitsui and Skari write that community colleges need legislative support to be adequately funded.

According to Higher Ed Dive, two Virginia bills, one in the House and the other in the Senate, would extend in-state financial aid to unauthorized immigrant students. The bills have each passed their respective chambers.

College Affordability

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is increasing pressure on President Biden to cancel $50,000 in student loan debts for each borrower. Congressional Democrats have proposed a nonbinding resolution calling upon the President to use his executive authority to cancel about 80 percent of the student loan debt of about 36 million borrowers. Student debt cancellation is a top progressive priority. Mr. Biden has said he supports legislation calling for $10,000 in student debt relief.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last week that the Biden administration is looking into whether it can use executive authority to cancel some part of the $1.6 trillion in federal student loans. “The President continues to support the cancelling of student debt to bring relief to students and families,” Psaki said in a tweet. “Our team is reviewing whether there are any steps he can take through executive action and he would welcome the opportunity to sign a bill sent to him by Congress.

Coronavirus: Safety and Reopening

Colleges and universities across the country are encountering obstacles to a safer spring semester including the emerging COVID-19 variants and the behavior of students experiencing pandemic fatigue. According to the New York Times, leaders at the University of Michigan planned to use the lessons learned from a difficult fall semester to keep infection rates down, increasing testing, offering more courses online, limiting dorm rooms to one occupant and establishing a policy of no tolerance for rules violations. However, since January 1st, 1,000 new virus cases have been announced by the school.

The Chronicle reports on the fall experience at Central Methodist University, where 28% of its residential students tested positive for COVID-19 in the fall semester. Small colleges like Central Methodist were not able to follow the best practices for testing and prevention that large systems or well-resources colleges put in place. Reopening was also a necessity for a school like Central Methodist, which doesn’t have the resources to weather the storm of plummeting enrollment.

The New MCFeed

Welcome to the new MCFeed! As you can see, we have a new logo, which attempts to depict the many competing interests, priorities and stressors influencing college students’ everyday lives. You also may notice a change in format for the Mental and Behavioral Health section of this newsletter.

Over the five years that we have been covering this topic in the MCFeed, this section has grown significantly as awareness and concern for college mental health increases. We are so happy that this issue is getting the attention it deserves, but the increased news coverage has gradually made this section a bit unwieldy! In order to better serve our readers, we are planning to highlight several of the most important stories of the week pertaining to mental and behavioral health, under the heading “Main Stories.” We will continue to briefly highlight additional interesting stories in a shortened format under the heading “Other News.”

We hope these updates are valuable to you, our readers. We are always open to new and creative ways to make this newsletter better, and welcome your comments on the new format, as well as any other ideas you may have to improve how we bring you the latest news and information on young adult emotional and behavioral health

Thank you for reading the MCFeed.