‘More people are starting to realize that we’re all in this together’: Students discuss pandemic impact on mental health

(Archive photo by Hannah Greer | Collegian Media Group)

Over the past year —during a worldwide pandemic — Kansas State has seen an increase in mental health awareness conversations within the student body.

Nicole Knapp, intern in health service psychology for K-State’s Counseling Services, has been seeing patients since the start of the pandemic. She said she’s seen how the pandemic affects students mentally and physically.

“Our mental health isn’t just how we feel,” Knapp said. “Especially if we continue to ignore it, it can go into our physical health and start impacting us that way. In order to be our best selves, we really need to be focusing on ourselves as a whole person, which includes our mental health.”

Although the stigma surrounding mental health can seem intimidating, K-State makes sure student needs are accommodated, Chris Bowman, health educator for Lafene Health Center’s health promotion department, said.

“All the services that the K-State Counseling Services provide, students pay for them with their privilege fee,” Bowman said. “If they’re taking six hours or more, that privilege fee includes counseling services so they will not receive a bill.”

Counseling Services has increased the number of free counseling visits per semester from five to eight. The privilege fee allows for eight individual therapy visits, unlimited group therapy visits and a 24-hour counseling hotline at 785-532-6927.

Sydney Gall, freshman in nutrition and health, said coming into college is stressful for many people, with moving to a new place and finding your identity in new social situations adding to the stress. She said the pandemic has allowed her to pay more attention to her mental health.

“To me, mental health is huge. I think that in the past couple years, we all have done such a great job bringing awareness around it and trying to combat the stigma that is around mental health,” Gall said. “For college students, it can be extremely difficult to find a balance. Especially this year, COVID has made us all adapt so much, which definitely had an impact on a lot of people’s mental health.”

Makenzie Moran, junior in human resources management, said she has seen a positive response to mental health and that it’s becoming more of an open subject.

“I think because of the pandemic, more people are starting to realize that we’re all in this together,” Moran said. “Since we were all stuck at home for so long, we kind of forgot how to talk to people or forgot how to do certain things we always used to do.”

Gall said she’s taken steps to find how she can stay on track with her mental health and social life.

“Personally, I deal with a lot of anxiety. While we were all forced to stay at home, I was able to sit down with myself and try to figure out what the root causes were,” Gall said. “I was able to work out every day, do self-care and did yoga almost every morning. It really helped me feel reconnected with myself.”

Bowman said new and returning students should know it’s OK to not be OK, and getting involved at the university is important.

“One thing I’d recommend to students is find ways to get connected to the university,” Bowman said. “That way you have that network of people that can support you when you need help, or you can support what they need as well.”

Madolynn Rink, sophomore in human health biology, said it’s also important to pay attention to the mental health of others.

“Something I have started doing is going out of my way to do the little things for my friends,” Rink said. “Whether that be grabbing them lunch, helping them clean or going for a walk, I think it’s the little things that count.”

Students can schedule initial evaluations online through the myLafene portal and call Counseling Services at 785-532-6927 to schedule counseling appointments.