The weight of the pandemic, coupled with the stress of upcoming final exams and overall fatigue, has taken a toll on many students' mental health — particularly first-years, who are experiencing significant loss and social isolation.
Some first-year students have reported an increase in stress about schoolwork as the remote environment of COVID-19 makes it harder to connect with others socially. Dr. Allen O’Barr, director of Counseling and Psychological Services, said he has noticed the number of appointments dealing with burnout have significantly increased.
Trouble finding community
First-year student Akash Ray is a clinical lab science major. He said he always spends some time on his phone before getting ready for a normal day doing work by himself at the Student Union, the lounge in his residence hall or his room.
“I work the entire afternoon and most of the evening, and fall asleep at a really bad hour,” he said. “I just think the heavy load of assignments as we’re nearing the end of the semester is really weighing on me. That’s really stressful, but I’m managing it fairly well.”
First-year student Nate Worley, an economics and public policy major, feels as though the University community is separated and isolated. He said he misses normal social interactions, but student groups have helped him meet new people.
“It’s been very difficult for a lot of people to make friends,” Worley said. “All the good organizations like Residence Hall Association , Campus Y, Asian American Students Association — those are some organizations I’ve attended that have built a great community.”
First-year student Mariam Ali said on a scale of 1 to 10, she said she would rate her mental health most days at around a 5.
“I need personal interactions with my professors in order to feel satisfied with my learning experience, which is not being taken full advantage of because of the pandemic,” she said.
First-year physics major Andrew Mattson said his classes this spring semester have felt harder than they used to.
“I feel like the University is not offering us much of a break and expecting us to do the exact same amount of work with the same rigor as before COVID,” he said.
Mental health resources
Mattson, Ali and Ray all said they have not reached out to CAPS or other mental health resources at the University.
“Personally, I have never (reached out to CAPS)," Ray said. "I’ve heard some not-so-great things about them, so I’m more hesitant.”
CAPS operates using an initial phone screening, in which students complete a questionnaire to determine what services are best suited for them.
Because of the pandemic, some UNC students are living in another state or a different country. This makes accessibility for mental health services and therapy even more difficult because CAPS counselors and psychologists with North Carolina licenses can only provide services in the state.
O’Barr said CAPS’ referral services have tripled, since it has had to refer students out to therapists near their residences.
He has also said many students get frustrated when they gather up the courage to call CAPS, then immediately get referred out.
“There is a lot of positive stuff about CAPS, and there is a lot of negative stuff about CAPS,” O’Barr said.
He said he welcomes any student who has had a negative experience with CAPS to reach out to him through his email.
“We’re all going through something for so long that has been a communal experience, but has also been an experience that amplifies inequalities,” he said. “We’re all suffering and we all suffer in different ways and in different degrees. There is a discrepancy in suffering but suffering is suffering. Go easy on yourself and go easy everybody else.”
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