Tufts sees decrease in mental health-related calls during COVID-19 pandemic

Tufts Counseling and Mental Health Services is pictured on Aug. 28. Ann Marie Burke / The Tufts Daily

Counseling and Mental Health Services has seen a decrease in mental health-related calls from on-campus students, despite the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions imposed to ensure the health and safety of students.

Julie Ross, director of Counseling and Mental Health Services, described how the decrease in calls differed from CMHS’ expectations.

“Nationally, we are seeing reports of increased mental health-related distress and somewhat decreased use of campus mental health services since the start of the pandemic,” Ross wrote in an email to the Daily. “Although the phones are busy and we are working with many students, we had expected a significant uptick in calls but have seen a slight decrease instead.”

This trend is associated with the fewer number of students residing on campus, according to Ross. 

“The decrease correlates with the lower percentage of students on campus, as remote learning makes it possible for students living at home to continue with their care providers there rather than transitioning to on-campus care,” Ross said. 

Despite the decrease in calls to CMHS, the pandemic has still affected students’ mental health.  Michelle Bowdler, executive director of health and wellness services, explained some of the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted students’ lives.

“This pandemic has led to fewer traditional social options and many clubs and activities of great importance to students have been curtailed,” Bowdler wrote in an email to the Daily. “As well, some students have experienced loss in their families and other families have experienced job loss or are in jobs as first responders, which could add to a student’s stress.”

Outside of these factors, many courses this semester have been taught in a virtual format, which has also affected students’ mental health. 

“While Tufts has done its best to do creative programming, some students report zoom fatigue and the colder weather and earlier sunset time can also impact mental health,” Bowdler said.

According to Ross, CMHS has noticed in its data that students are also troubled by the inability of their peers to follow health restrictions and guidelines on campus. 

“Interestingly, we also see significant distress in students due to anxiety and interpersonal conflict related to interacting with others who are not adhering to the restrictions, so it seems to cut both ways,” Ross said.

CMHS has remained available to accommodate students quarantining or isolating, should they come into contact with COVID-19. 

“We are offering drop-in support meetings twice weekly for students in [quarantine] and [isolation]. One meets on Tuesdays around dinnertime, so students can come together over a meal if they like,” Ross said. “The second meeting is held on Friday afternoons, and … also offers students the opportunity to … work on planning for the relatively unstructured time of the weekend.”

While the pandemic has forced some university services to make changes, mental health resources remain largely the same as they were before the pandemic.

“CMHS continues to provide the full range of services that were in place prior to the pandemic,” Ross said. “All services are offered remotely at this time.”

However, CMHS has also developed new ways to offer support to students.

“We have expanded our workshop/support meeting offerings in efforts to facilitate peer connection and conversation as well as to offer skills for coping with uncertainty and stress,” Ross said. “This summer we also started a CMHS [Instagram] account, which is very active and offers information and resources on a wide variety of topics.”

Beyond CMHS resources, students can turn to Ears for Peers, a confidential student-run helpline that gives students a space to discuss any difficulties they are facing, according to its website.

Casey Chiang, a member of Ears for Peers, described how the organization differs from CMHS.

“All Ears members get trained in communication, empathy, and the like as well as basic mental health information but in the end, we are just students,” Chiang, a senior, wrote in an email to the Daily. “And the dynamic of talking to another college student anonymously helps some people feel more comfortable than talking to an adult, professional, or friend in person.”

Sohenee Banerjee, a junior and another member of Ears for Peers, explained how the organization has made adjustments due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our line is now open from 7pm-2am, and we have social distancing measures in place between Ears … We are very grateful for the chance to be operating despite all the changes,” Banerjee wrote in an email to the Daily.

Banerjee added that Ears for Peers is always available and can also connect callers to other resources.

“It is important for students to know that Ears for Peers is a safe space to talk about whatever is on their mind,” Banerjee said. “We are here to listen, and any Tufts student can call or text this hotline when they have something that they would like to talk about.”