Emily Shorter. Photo by Brandon Shorter

By Brandon Shorter

Q: What effect has returning to the classroom had on student mental health?

A: I am currently interning at a campus counseling clinic. We’ve seen kind of a variety of answers for this. For some students it’s their first time being back with other students. Their freshman year they were experiencing Covid, and so everybody was quarantined and classes were online and so they didn’t really get into the college experience. 

And now they’re a couple of years in, and they’re kind of being thrown into, you know, full classes and social life. And a lot of them haven’t had the chance to build that social network yet. And so that’s been really hard. We’ve also seen a lot of anxiety and a lot of depression. A lot of students, having not been around people for a while, got comfortable with that in college, and now they’re kind of being forced to interact again. And that’s really brought out a lot of anxiety problems in a lot
of college students.

Q: Are students seeking help for their mental health? More or less?

A: I would say, definitely more. We’ve had a huge influx at the college that I work for of students seeking help for depression,for anxiety, a lot of just needing help with understanding social cues. 

Some of them really just need someone to talk to because they’re from out of state and they haven’t had that chance to build a social network here. So they feel very lonely. We have a pretty decent waiting list right now, and I think that’s true not just for campus clinics but for family clinics, community clinics, everywhere is pretty full. So we’re seeing a lot of people.

Q: What mental health issues have you seen students most frequently dealing with?

A: Anxiety is probably the top one that I have seen personally. A lot of anxiety over school, over the future, a lot of people with anxiety that they really don’t know what it’s connected to

They just feel anxious all the time. That’s difficult in class especially if you don’t have friends in class with you or someone that you’re comfortable with. Getting called on in class to read can really bring out that anxiety in some people. Just being in a room with people they don’t know. Test anxiety has been really big lately. A lot of people are very nervous test takers and tend to kind of shut down a little bit. Depression, I think, would probably be the second runner. We see a lot of people with both depression and anxiety. But definitely a lot of people with just depression as well.

Q: What resources can students use for mental health issues?

A: Your campus will have a clinic of some sort. You can get referrals from them. There should be someone on your campus to talk to. If you live in dorms you can always talk to your RA and they can point you in the right direction. Your professors will always be happy to point you in the right direction. There are also a lot of community clinics. 

Oklahoma city has plenty of community clinics. A lot of them take insurance, if you don’t have insurance there are a lot of therapists now that offer what’s called sliding scale. Which means they don’t charge your insurance, it’s just out of pocket but they take into account how much you make. So if you’re a student who’s not working or you’re working part time. They can kind of work with you on reducing that fee and making it more affordable.

Q: Do you have any tips or strategies for students to use if they become overwhelmed or anxious?

A: There are a lot of, lot of strategies to use to help with anxiety. I think the ones that kind of are the easiest or kind of beginner level. Are things that help kind of bring you back into your body. So just noticing when you take a deep breath in and out. 

Thinking about the air going into your nose and down to your lungs and then that process of exhaling and the air going back. There is a strategy called grounding. Where you’re looking for something around you that connects to each of the five senses, so something that you can hear, something that you can smell, touch, all of those things. Again just to bring you back into your body and you know exactly where you are. Breathing is a really good one. 4×4 breathing I think is really effective. It’s four seconds, count to four when you inhale, count to four when you exhale, and you’re going to do that four times. You can do it more than four times but you’ll kind of feel at about that fourth time that your heart rate is starting to slow down. And what’s really great about that one is if you have a hard time turning your brain off. It’s totally okay. You can, you know, keep being anxious in your brain but your body’s gonna start to calm down because of those deep breaths. So once your body starts to calm down your mind will kind of follow after.

Note: The author Brandon Shorter is the husband of Emily Shorter.

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