When Kylie Conners began in-person classes this fall, her anxiety about socializing inside the classroom seemed to begin on her walk to class each day.
“Sometimes when I get to class I sit in the corner so I don’t have to stay there if I get too anxious or anything,” said Conners, a junior advertising major. “I just have to pull myself in sometimes, take a deep breath and just realize that my mental health is making my head spin when I know I can just try and relax and get through it instead of making it so intense.”
Students are facing an array of new challenges this semester from mental health concerns about learning in-person and feeling the stress of having to socialize more as pre-pandemic activities resume. Many students are choosing to cope with their struggles through personal counseling, and not through the university’s services.
Students felt isolated, burnt out and depressed throughout the pandemic after classes shut down in March 2020, which has impacted students’ ability to focus and stay motivated during school, The Temple News reported.
However, the university’s decision to begin offering a majority of in-person classes this fall has strained Conners’ mental health, she said.
“Having in-person classes gives me more of a structure which is good for my mental health to get into a routine,” Conners said. “But there are days where I feel like it is a drag, like an absolute burden. It seems impossible for myself to wake up and get ready and go to class. It’s honestly still really stressful at times.”
With students’ declining mental health continuing to affect students’ wellbeing, Tuttleman Counseling Services has experienced a large increase of students accessing their services this semester compared to this time last year, wrote Andrew Lee, who became the director of Tuttleman three weeks ago, in an email to The Temple News.
The most prevalent issues counselors at Tuttleman are seeing this semester are students dealing with anxiety and depression, Lee wrote in an email to The Temple News.
“National trends would suggest that many more students are presenting to college counseling centers with more severe concerns, as well as greater levels of symptom acuity and longer histories of mental health issues,” Lee wrote.
Out of nearly 33,000 students, 39 percent reported experiencing depression, whether it be major or moderate cases, and 34 percent reported having an anxiety disorder, according to a nationwide survey conducted by a Boston University mental health researcher in Fall 2020.
At Tuttleman, Lee has noticed that both first-year students and older students are having a difficult time adjusting to an in-person educational experience because the pandemic heightened the stress of returning to school after being online, Lee wrote.
Raisa Roberto, a first year podiatric medical student at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine, has regularly struggled with mental illness, and having to graduate from her undergraduate program virtually only made those challenges worse, she said.
Roberto graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2020, and the disappointment of having a virtual graduation ceremony made her feel as though she worked tirelessly for nothing because she could not celebrate her accomplishment of being the first person in her family to graduate from college.
After completing her undergraduate degree from the University of Pittsburgh, Roberto took some time off from school to work before enrolling at Temple.
“I was so tired and burnt out from undergrad I just had to take a break,” Roberto said. “Obviously starting any grad program is difficult, but I am in a program where you really want as much support as possible, so it’s just frustrating having to finish my undergrad online, just to start my grad school online as well.”
As a first-year medical school student, Roberto already feels immense pressure from her program to succeed with such challenging coursework and her mental health has suffered, she said. The situation probably would not be different even if she was in-person because the podiatry program she is in is strenuous, Roberto added.
She feels disconnected from her professors and detached from the program, which makes it harder for her to feel she made the right decision by enrolling into graduate school, Roberto said.
Four out of five students in the Philadelphia area reported their mental health being negatively impacted by the pandemic, and one in five students said that their mental health had “significantly worsened” since the pandemic began, according to a May 2021 survey published by Temple’s Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice.
Having resources to address mental health issues is a healthy way to cope with intrusive thoughts and having someone to listen to your struggles can be impactful, said Aric Kressly, a sophomore journalism major, who has been dealing with problems relating to his own self growth and feeling burnt out.
Kressly, Roberto and Conners all seek outside counselors to deal with their mental health problems instead of using Tuttleman’s on-campus services.
While Kressly and Conners agree that Tuttleman is accessible to students, they feel more comfortable using their own counselors since they have worked with them longer and have developed more personal relationships.
Yet, Roberto believes that in her situation as a graduate student who lives off campus, Tuttleman is not accessible to her at all.
“I haven’t really used any of those resources at Temple,” Roberto said. “Since I’m not on Main Campus, so many amenities aren’t as accessible because of that, so they’re there, it’s just really hard to use them and the system isn’t great to begin with.”
Lee feels as though Tuttleman is available to all students but acknowledges it’s more important how students think about the program’s accessibility, and how to make resources more available if students feel they are not.
“We offer an online registration portal that allows students access to the services offered at [Tuttleman],” Lee wrote. “In addition, if a student has a question about our services, they can also contact our front desk who can best direct them to get their question answered.”
Even though the university offers Tuttleman’s mental health resources free of charge to Temple students, students have dealt with issues like scheduling conflicts and long wait times in the past, according to The Temple News.
With the increase of students using Tuttleman’s services this semester, Lee wants to learn from the Temple community and other employees at the program how to better accommodate Temple students.
“My desire is to learn from the Temple community at large, as well as the team at [Tuttleman], regarding the current perception of [Tuttleman] and ways that [Tuttleman] has historically served Temple students well, as well as changes that might be helpful in the future to serve students more effectively and efficiently,” Lee wrote.
As Kressly returns to campus this semester, he feels pressure to regain a normal social life and be as involved as possible, since he spent a majority of last school year online without regular social interaction.
“There is so much to do all the time now, when last year there was really nothing, it can be stressful and exhausting going from doing nothing to doing everything,” Kressly said.
With the expectation to socialize and the stress of learning in person or, for Roberto, the struggle of still learning online, Temple students are continuing to deal with their mental health problems day by day.
“With my mental state, I’m more like, yeah, this is rough but there’s nothing I can do about it, so I might as well try to enjoy my day as much as I can,” Roberto said. “I’m just trying to pull through and work through my issues.”