College students say pandemic has brought stressors, a greater focus on mental health among classmates and professors

college students
Posted at 2:00 PM, Jan 20, 2021

College is a big adjustment, even more so this year as freshmen and seniors alike navigate a pandemic that has changed nearly everything about the college experience.

Campuses around the country are quieter as many students learn from home, tuning into lectures through video conferences. Social gatherings are limited and parties are nearly non-existent.

“It’s been difficult,” said Apshara Siwakoti, a freshman at the University of Denver.

Siwakoti is a refugee from Nepal and a biomedical engineering student. Like millions of college students across the country, this year is not what she had in mind. The first in her family to graduate high school, Siwakoti received her diploma through a car window this past spring and celebrated by calling her family over Zoom.

Now in college, Siwakoti has just a handful of friends that she has met through classes that have brought their own challenges.

“Sometimes I cannot grasp concepts because it’s through a screen instead of being face-to-face,” she said.

They are challenges Mariah Wellman has seen from both sides as a Ph.D. student and instructor at the University of Utah.

“I have been shown so much grace and flexibility from my faculty, from my committee members for my dissertation, the final big project that we do as doctoral candidates, and so it’s really encouraged me to show that on the other side,” said Wellman.

Wellman says this year--more than any other in her seven years of higher education--has brought stressors. There are fewer outlets and chances to decompress, and the college experience is only a shell of what she remembers from her undergraduate years.

“It’s really, really taxing,” she said. “It’s everything we’ve heard about for the last 9 or 10 months. Being on your computer all day long is not the healthiest way to do our jobs and to be a student.”

Wellman says the challenges have brought a focus to mental health that she says she has not seen before.

“Not only are students becoming more comfortable talking about their mental health with their peers, they’re also becoming more comfortable sharing with their instructors,” said Wellman. “For some instructors, it’s forced them to really consider that mental health aspect.”

Siwakoti says that support has been helpful and during this year a little help can go a long way.

“I’m doing fairly [well],” she said. “I’ve made that handful of friends that I can depend on. I have some adults I can go to if I want to talk. Class of 2020, we went through a pandemic; we can do anything.”