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Science

Being a Student During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Part 3

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From ISU.edu. Dept-of-Counceling Sign
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Scott concludes a three-part mini-series on ‘Being a Student During the COVID-19 Pandemic’. Speaking again to Idaho State University President, Kevin Satterlee, Scott finds out more about the Universities response to the pandemic, with a focus on student housing. Speaking with Dr. Ryan Manwaring, a clinical psycho-pharmacologist, and Erin Miller, a student in ISU Counseling Program, Scott explores the resources that exist to support student’s mental health, and how therapy is adapting its approach during the pandemic.  

Last week on Mind Tap, I spoke to Hannah Brinser, a Doctoral student in the councilor education and counselling program. She told me that social isolation is one of the biggest issues that student during the pandemic and that it is causing other mental health challenges, like anxiety and depression, to be intensified. Also, I spoke to Kevin Satterlee, the President of Idaho State University (ISU), who had a clear message that he takes mental health concerns at the University very seriously, and that ISU has an inherent responsibility for the mental health of its students. It was great to speak to such a prominent figure from the University and find out what steps ISU is taking to respond to the elevated threats to student’s mental health during the pandemic.

This week on Mind Tap, I conclude this three-part mini-series on being a student during the pandemic. Later in the episode, I speak to Dr. Ryan Manwaring, a clinical psycho-pharmacologist, and Erin Miller, a student in ISU Counseling Program. But first, I speak again to ISU President Satterlee. I started by asking a question emailed in by a Mind Tap listener, who is also a student living in student housing – the question was about COVID-19 safety in campus housing.

“The first thing I would like to say is thank you to this student for bringing this up, and I hope everybody feels comfortable bringing things like these up, nobody ever gets in trouble for raising these types of concerns. What we tried to do in housing was limit our occupancy to 50% in an attempt to de-densify, we also tried to control things like communal drinking fountains. But that doesn’t mean everything we have done worked, for some of these things, you don’t know how well they will work until you try them. I think it needs to be an iterative process, where you try something, evaluate it, and then adjust. I know that we have had a few cases in housing, but we have been doing the contact tracing, the isolation, the quarantining and that has helped. We haven’t had the massive outbreaks or the number of cases that other Universities have had. That means we have either been lucky or that the things we are doing are working. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have improvement.”

I continued by asking President Satterlee who is enforcing mask mandates in student housing.

“Well, that would be our resident directors and resident advisors who are in charge – but let me add one more thing – we all need to realize that enforcement isn’t looking to somebody else to tell us what to do. Some of it is about us doing the right thing. Each of us individually should be doing self-enforcement. If we all take individual and shared responsibility, this can make a difference. However, there is a still a responsibility for those in charge to enforce mask mandates.”

President Satterlee highlighted the importance of being mindful when it comes to wearing a mask, maintaining social distancing and caring for the community. But how can students be mindful of their own mental wellbeing? I asked Erin Miller, an ISU Counseling student.

“It’s a really tough time to be a student. To be far from home, going through school feeling lethargic and not knowing why. I often encourage my students to practice mindfulness exercises, like medication and grounding techniques.”

I took the opportunity to ask Erin about resources exist to support student’s mental health.
“There are many resources that exist for students here on campus, in a variety of formats. You can call counselling and testing to make an appointment to see a counsellor, there are also group sessions you can enroll in, and there is bio-feedback, which is a way to module your physical responses to stress. If you need urgent support you can also come into counselling and testing and be lined up with somebody in a quarantined area.”

And all of these resources are available on campus for ISU students. I also spoke to Dr. Ryan Manwaring, a clinical psycho pharmacologist, because I wanted to know more about the mental health impacts of an online learning environment for students.

“In our relationships, therapeutically, we need to be able to communicate with our bodies (body-language) to be understood. But it’s very difficult to do this with a small (online) window. It’s easy for students to feel separated and not connected with the teacher. So, teachers are having to make more of an effort, which takes more energy, to keep students engaged and maintain a student-teacher relationship. Relationships are key to our mental health. It’s no surprise that when we seek mental health treatments, a huge part of that process is the other person, the connection and relationship with them. If we sought treatment from a robot – the results would not be as good.”

Dr. Manwaring has faced an online transition of his own. He has had to conduct his counseling session with his patients online. But has already found a silver lining and that may have some cross over for students.

“In some ways it poses some challenges, not being able to have somebody sit right in front of you – but in other ways it can be beneficial. We are able to access a lot of people who wouldn’t normally come into therapy, it removes a lot of barriers, some people don’t like sitting in a lobby, or have anxiety, sensory issues or don’t have the ability to drive down the clinic. I understand that sitting in the outpatients’ lobby can be stressful, so meeting with a councilor on a screen can be a good alternative. While this is a double-edged sword, I do think we can use it to our advantage, and it has pushed us to do more with tele-mental health.”

Thanks to all my guests this week, it’s been great to talk to so many different people, with varying areas of expertise on these topics. If you want to listen back to this mini-series, or any other Mind Tap episode, they are all available on KISU.org under the MindTap program link. Next week I am investigating diversity and mental health.

Join me, Scott Greeves, for Mind Tap, Friday Morning at 7.35am