Student use of Rider counseling services stagnant despite pandemic stresses

By Tatyanna Carman

Despite the effects of the coronavirus impacting students’ mental health, student usage of counseling services has not increased since the end of the last spring semester and the summer, according to Director of Rider Counseling Services Nadine Heitz.

Heitz said that there has been a slight decrease in the number of students using the counseling services, which she presumes is because, “students are still getting used to classes, and negotiating remote and hybrid classes in a way they’ve never had to before.”

She also said that some other reasons why some students choose to use or not use the services are due to logistics, clinical issues and self-awareness. According to Heitz, typically about 10% to 15% of the Rider student body utilizes the counseling services.

Heitz also explained that the counseling services are working diligently to offer “the same types of services in a remote fashion.”

“We are still doing programming, for example, but [we] can’t go into [Daly Dining Hall] and talk to people and hand out prizes,” she said. “Instead, we’re highlighting our events online with newsletters, flyers and shared activities that students can do in their own homes or rooms while being together on Zoom. We’ve also increased the number of drop-in spaces for students, as well as partnering with other departments and organizations so students aren’t overwhelmed by too many Zoom meetings. Of course, we still have our individual counseling spaces, and we’re meeting students either by Zoom or by phone.”

However, senior film, TV and radio major Jada Peterson said that she felt as though the counseling services do not have much of a presence nor does it “go out of their way or try to meet the students.”

“I feel as though if they were more vocal or they were more out and present, more students would go because mental health sometimes people think of it as negatively like, ‘Oh you’re seeing a therapist? Blah blah blah. This person must be crazy,’” she said. “But I feel as though if they were more vocal and really talked to us about mental health other than sending emails or sending text blasts or something like that, kids would be more prone to like go and see them. But since it’s not really there and it’s here once or twice for an event, kids are like, ‘Oh OK. It’s whatever.’”

According to senior communication studies major Elizabeth Curcio, the pandemic has impacted the mental health of students, including herself, by making themselves more “vulnerable to sensitive situations” and “realizing just how temporary our normal routine lives can be.”

“We have been in isolation for so long, it has affected how young teens and college students have been reflecting on themselves and the world around them,” Curcio said.

Heitz also mentioned how the pandemic created an “artificial isolation” that would not usually be present in a college setting and, as a result, “people are having to change their expectations and lifestyles in ways they would not have anticipated.”

“During any transition, especially one which separates us from one another, it’s important to find and create connections to each other,” Heitz said. “Counseling can help students understand how to better support themselves by understanding more completely what they need, what will help them, and helping them find effective ways to fill their needs.”

Junior psychology and sociology double major and community assistant at Olson residence hall explained that learning how to adapt to a different learning environment has been stressful for her.

“So, having like no difference in like my bedroom from a classroom it’s like a very weird environment,” Kunz said. “It was interesting this year because before we went all online, I had planned to take a single online class this semester anyway to kind of like see like feel it out and we ended up going all online anyway.”

She also mentioned that she used to get a better experience in the classroom and she noticed “that people don’t want to be there.”

Senior film, TV and radio major Demara Barnes explained that the pandemic has impacted her “mentally and physically” and said that “hopping on technology” as a way of getting an education is mentally draining for her.

“It’s kind of just sluggish,” Barnes said. “I think mentally, especially for me, I don’t know if I can speak for other students, but when I do my work I don’t really care as much about it as I would if I was actually in class, like ‘Oh, maybe I should get this done. Let me hurry up and do this.’ As for now, I’m waiting until the last minute to get things done.”

Barnes said that she also works at UPS in addition to being a full-time student and goes to work between 12:45 a.m. and 1:45 a.m. and does not leave until 8:30 a.m.

“I work super, super early in the morning, so when I come home I try to like get some sleep and then when I wake up I try to start the rest of my day,” she said. “With schoolwork being virtual, it’s like I go to work, then I come home, then I sleep for five,10 minutes maybe like an hour or so and then I wake up and I’m kind of still sluggish and I have to get assignments done that I really don’t want to do. So it adds stress to that.”

She said she has used the counseling services once before the pandemic and said that it helped her. Barnes also said that she thought about going to them again.

“I actually thought about it, talking to them about schoolwork and just having someone actually sit down and talk to like, ‘Listen, I’m stressing so much right now and my anxiety is through the roof,’” Barnes explained. “But I thought about it and I don’t know if I’m actually going to do it because sometimes I like to have my own coping mechanisms that I do. So I’m going back and forth with myself.”

Kunz said she has participated in some of the counseling service’s outreach activities like pet therapy before the pandemic. She also said that she knows people that have used the counseling services and it helps them because, “they do a really good job of helping you de-stress and understand navigating the college life.”

“So I think it’s just really it’s a resource for students and like that’s the most important thing is for students to realize that it’s a resource for them. We pay a lot of money to come to this school and they do provide us with a lot of resources so like, you might as well use them.”

Professor and Director for the School Counseling and Coaching Programs Juleen Buser added that many individuals may feel isolated, have their anxiety heightened or may struggle with depression.

“It is very important to seek support early for mental health struggles. One thing we talk about a lot in our professions is reducing the stigma of counseling. You do not have to be in crisis to seek counseling support. You may just be struggling with increased stress or anxiety or a sense of being overwhelmed. Counselors can help with increased coping tools to manage stress before it becomes a crisis or is unmanageable.”

Rider alumna Sravya Gummaluri ‘16 and ‘19, who graduated from the clinical mental health program and is a Ph.D. counseling student at George Washington University, said that in addition to counseling, students should keep reaching out to people.

“So whether it is your friends, your family, your professors, whoever it might be, whoever you trust, keep reaching out to them,” she said. “Whether it is just telling them about your day or if you’re stressed about something or you’re sad about something, make sure that you aren’t isolating yourself, which sounds weird because I said the pandemic is super isolating. But kind of just making that effort to connect with others is extremely important for a person’s mental health, especially now, especially if you’re indoors all day.”

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