Monday, April 15th, 2024

How MU Is Supporting Its Students’ Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic

For Millersville University, along with many other colleges and universities across the country, the transition to remote learning has caused many to be concerned about how schools will continue to offer mental health care and counseling. Rest assured, the University is committed to the ongoing care of its students.

The counseling center at MU is offering therapy sessions via Zoom or phone calls. The center is also continuing to provide drug and alcohol crisis counseling. Unfortunately, several services the counseling center regularly offers were not able to be transitioned to online modalities, like the light box therapy, pet therapy and support groups. Additionally, a list of local referrals for therapists and other organizations can be found online from the center’s site, as well online counseling and free crisis hotlines.

Dr. Kendra Saunders, a counselor at Millersville, provided some helpful advice to assist individuals in dealing with the effects of social distancing. Simple things like maintaining a regular routine, getting exercise, connecting with friends, eating well and taking this extra time to get more sleep are all basic ways to maintain a sense of normalcy in a time that is anything but normal. Saunders sees this as an opportunity for some to find a new perspective on what really matters. “As Americans, we are used to being busy,” she said. “This being forced to slow down could be enlightening for some people about what truly brings them joy.”

While the University continues to reassess the best ways to support its students during this difficult time, it’s likely that the stay at home order from Pennsylvania’s Governor Tom Wolf, and similar ordinances from officials across the United States, may have unintended consequences for our nation’s most vulnerable populations.

Many experts worry that we will see a marked increase in child abuse, domestic violence and elder abuse during quarantine. Since these at-risk groups of people are now largely cut off from critical face-to-face interactions with social services, the possibility of these individuals slipping through the cracks – or being quite literally trapped at home with their abusers – is heightened. Throw in job and income loss, housing and food insecurity, and cut off access to in-person interactions with mandated reporters outside of the home (like teachers, counselors, medical professionals and clergy members), and you have a recipe for disaster.

In fact, there’s already been a documented increase of suspected child abuse cases in the state of Texas. But isolation can also heighten mental health issues. Those with suicidal ideations, depression or any number of mental health conditions may find themselves combating unwanted thoughts quite literally alone. Perhaps loss of income or a job has left them unable to afford their necessary medications or without insurance. For many, quarantine isn’t a fun, month-long Netflix binge session. It’s a fight for their lives.

“Pandemics such as COVID-19 may be stressful for some individuals,” said Dr. Karen Rice, associate professor and chair of the School of Social Work. “The important thing is developing a plan for how to cope with our emotions. The first thing to do is setting a routine for your day as you would any other day.” Echoing the wisdom of Saunders, Rice suggested engaging in pleasurable activities to “switch off” from work and school, like reading, walking, exercising, cooking, gardening, or listening to music. “Above all,” said Rice, “it is important to limit the amount of news consumption as that can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and stress.” Rice also encourage anyone experiencing emotional distress to seek help.

So, what can you do to help protect yourself and others during quarantine? Here’s a list of resources to get help (US and Pennsylvania resources only):

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