Saniya Soni knows what it’s like to wonder if the world would be better off without you.
Soni, 22, thinks it’s important to be open about her lifelong struggles with mental health. Her lowest point came six years ago when she attempted to take her own life. She says now that she’s “so grateful that I did stick around” but acknowledges that gratitude came over time. Since her hospitalization, Soni has learned to navigate her depression and anxiety, leaning hard on therapy and supplementing with prescription drugs as needed.
But then COVID-19 turned the world upside down last spring, and the Drexel Univerity graduate – who finished her bachelor’s degree last month and has moved on to a full-time job in the tech sector – had to operate in an entirely new reality. In the process, her mental health took a significant hit.
She’s far from the only one. Numerous studies conducted since last March have shown depression spike among college-age young adults and an increase in anti-depressant drug refills. As these students graduate and join the workforce, they do so without the free or cheap mental health care available at college, worrying economists.
So health care professionals are calling on universities to expand, not trim, on-campus counseling resources for students and staff when they restore in-person instruction in a few months.
“I do worry that once things are back to normal, colleges are going to become complacent,” said Gerri Taylor of the American College Health Association. “I think there’s going to be a backlash, a sort of PTSD, from COVID. We’re still seeing people who have lost jobs, fell into economic hardship with their families. Those issues are still going to be there.”
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When Soni moved from her home in the Bay Area to Philadelphia, where Drexel is located, she knew she’d need to build a support system on and off campus. But when COVID-19 hit and Drexel moved everything online, much of that support system evaporated. Soni went home and instantly started stressing.
“I was at my most depressed when I was in high school,” Soni says. The first few months back home, she was terrified she’d spiral back into severe depression.
In Phoenix, Gregory Carnesi felt the opposite – his anxiety spiked when he returned to campus, not his house.
A rising senior at Arizona State University studying psychology, Carnesi, 21, has “been in therapy and taking medications longer than I can remember – most my life.” His mental health issues include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and general anxiety.
When pandemic began in March 2020, he moved home immediately. And when campus reopened in August, he moved back, hopeful he’d be more productive surrounded by other students. It didn’t go as planned.
“At home, I was rather disconnected from COVID; I could almost pretend like it wasn’t affecting me,” he says. “But when I moved back, I saw just how bad things were: Campus was a ghost town. There were COVID-19 awareness posters all over. It was just constant reminders that this pandemic is killing people – even in dorm bathrooms, those reminders were the first things you saw. The reality of it all hit, and that really scared me.”