College is supposed to be a chance for students to enter the world, explore, and discover. For many, the college experience offered all of these opportunities…until the pandemic turned everything upside down. These students were forced to cope with a myriad of restrictions, without being able to rely on their community support system for help. Incoming students, on the other hand, had to navigate their own challenges, as their freshman years did not turn out to be what they had probably envisioned their whole lives. 

Regardless of these different experiences, one thing that all of these college students have in common is that COVID-19 has taken a significant psychological toll on them. Prior to the pandemic, research showed that many college students already faced mental health challenges. The results of new surveys that are just coming back now are reporting that many students are suffering from moderate to severe depression or anxiety. As published in sciencemag.org, one survey respondent wrote, “I have never felt so depressed, anxious, and inadequate. Each day I struggle to maintain any level of productivity.”

This statement aligns with what one Boston University researcher is finding. Sarah Kitchen Lipson, a co-principle investigator involved in surveying nearly 33,000 college students across the country, found that half of students suffered from depression and/or anxiety. Further revealed in the findings were that 83 percent of the students attributed their mental health to poor academic performance, and two-thirds were struggling with loneliness and isolation. 

Matthew Browning, a researcher from Clemson University, comments on his own research, stating that his “study document[ed] that nearly half of college students were at a severe handicap in terms of their quality of life, education and social relationships because of their mental health during the early stages of the pandemic. It also identifies the risk factors that can help colleges and universities on messaging to encourage these students to come and get help.” Lipson also identified that her survey underscored the need for universities to put mechanisms in place that accommodate students’ mental health needs. 

Unfortunately, even though these surveys are calling for action from universities, most students feel as though they have been ignored. “It feels more like putting plaster on broken bones. The system was flawed before, but the pandemic has emphasized academic ignorance.” This is just one of the opinions from a student, as reported by the Harvard Business Review on the issues they are experiencing when seeking help. 

The door is not closed when it comes to the opportunity for universities to make changes, and some have been doing a very good job all along. Instructors should be more aware and accommodating of the challenges these students are facing by being more flexible with deadlines. Universities can offer more mental health resources on and off campus. Having more remote resources may prompt students to seek out help when they might not have. 

Students who do work with mental health professionals will benefit greatly from the wide variety of treatment options available. From changing daily habits, such as too much screen time, to talk therapy and the utilization of medications. Finding the right path could significantly improve their mental health. One option that also stands out is the use of ketamine. Where the manifestation of these students symptoms is most likely a result of the pandemic, ketamine could provide quick and lasting results. This could help these students focus less on negative mental health and more on making the best of their college experience. 

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