Most individuals have already or will experience emotional discomfort, increased anxiety or worse in response to the rapid spread of COVID-19 and the disruption to people’s lives. Grief at missing out on experiences, frustration and uncertainty are normal reactions to an event as unsettling as a worldwide pandemic. The situation is new and unpredictable.
Remember: It is okay to not be okay. The National College Health Assessment indicates that around one in four students have a diagnosable mental illness, while a much greater proportion report feeling overwhelmed (around 70 percent) or very lonely (around 60 percent).
Recognizing the unique challenges of these unprecedented times, Pennsylvania community colleges are offering support to students, faculty and others through their mental health services. Below are some of the ways community colleges are reconfiguring these previously in-person services to meet student needs:
Community College of Allegheny County
The Community College of Allegheny County created a COVID-19 student resource webpage to provide students with a singular location to access both internal and external resources.
The college’s counseling department offers students individual video counseling sessions as well as group engagement opportunities. Students also have access to counselors via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Faculty are encouraged to refer students struggling with the remote learning environment to the appropriate resource.
To assist students who may be experiencing additional challenges, the college also connects students to local food pantries, guides them in securing internet and computer resources and offers resources for paying utility bills.
Community College of Beaver County
The Community College of Beaver County wants students to know it cares about their needs. If students need someone to talk or are finding staying home and transitioning to online classes challenging, they can request “Need to Chat” coaches – college employees who can help answer questions, provide college-related information, or simply lend a listening ear.
Also, as part of its CCBC Cares social media campaign, the college has shared additional local resources such as crisis lines and outpatient counseling, wellness, and drug and alcohol resources. Amanda Bitkowsk, Academic Counselor and Student Mental Health Team Lead is available virtually and has drafted Calm during COVID: A Daily Check-in for campus-wide use. For more information, visit www.ccbc.edu/coronavirus.
Bucks County Community College
Buck County Community College offers free and confidential counseling for currently enrolled students. The Counseling Services department provides resources for students who are not on campus in a variety of ways. For counseling appointments and referrals to college and community resources, students can request an appointment with a counselor by calling Student Services or emailing email@example.com. Appointments are available in-person, by phone or Zoom. Local/community and national resources are made available on the college’s Counseling Services webpage.
Information about resources are also discussed during new student orientation (in-person and online), in COLL101 courses, and is referenced in the Title IX student brochure. Announcements about counseling and how to access services, are frequently posted on the MyBucks Portal. The college also holds trainings and information sessions each semester, for faculty and staff, to inform them about counseling services, resources and how to refer a student in need.
Students that need accommodations due to mental health diagnoses, can contact The Accessibility Office. After receipt of proper documentation and an intake, if the student is eligible, they will receive appropriate accommodations.
Butler County Community College
Butler County Community College (BC3) launched a Student Success Coaching model as BC3 transitioned to remote instruction. All students were assigned a coach. Coaches reached out to all students by email and phone in order to check in, provide support and make referrals as needed. Those identified by coaches, advisers, faculty or other students as needing additional support are referred to the CARE (Campus Assessment Response & Evaluation) Team. This team works with local county mental and community health agencies and connects students to resources as needed.
Delaware County Community College
Delaware County Community College continues to offer counseling services to currently registered students. Support staff are answering calls from students to triage their concerns and direct them to appropriate faculty or staff. If students ask to speak with a counselor, they are placed into an online queuing system or the support staff makes an appointment with a counselor for them.
Counselors are available Monday through Thursday 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and Fridays from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. They call students who are in the queue as soon as possible to address their concerns. Students who make appointments are called at the time of their scheduled appointment.
The college is currently using telephone as its main venue of communication for personal counseling due to Zoom’s confidentiality concerns. However, it is using Zoom for advising and career counseling appointments if students are comfortable with the technology. A new email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) was also created to provide an alternate method for students to reach out to counselors. This email address is monitored throughout the week and offers an automatic reply with suggestions for students who may be in crisis.
At the beginning of the Stay-At-Home order, counselors called several local off-campus organizations to ensure they are continuing to offer services. These services were then placed into a referral file for counselors to access as needed. Additionally, several of these resources were made available for students to access online.
HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College
HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, provides counseling services to students through a partnership with Mazzitti & Sullivan EAP Services. This partnership offers students 24/7 access to support through an expansive regional network of counseling providers. These counseling services continue uninterrupted by COVID-19, as Mazzitti & Sullivan provides tele-counseling and remote support for HACC students.
Additionally, HACC continues to review in-house resources and update its website with wellness and support options relevant to COVID-19.
Lehigh Carbon Community College
Lehigh Carbon Community College updated its primary webpage with county, state and federal crisis helpline information and added a message specific on COVID-19 for students.
The college moved its counseling services to virtual and phone appointments. Students have been notified (email, website, etc.) that counseling services continue to be made available to all currently enrolled students with directions on how to schedule an appointment. Presentations were made by counselors at faculty meetings to offer advice on how to work with students during these tumultuous times.
Resources and articles on dealing with anxiety during a crisis also were shared in the college newsletter, College Voice,and sent in an email to all students.
Luzerne County Community College
Luzerne County Community College’s Counseling Department supports students despite the physical campus being closed.
Tele-counseling services take place via telephone and can be requested by calling 800-377-5222, emailing email@example.com, and during all live, regularly scheduled video conferencing sessions. Additionally, a group chat titled Counseling Cares has been developed for students. The meetings take place every Wednesday and students receive support from a counselor and peers.
Resources are also available for students struggling with the adjustment to online classes. Guidance on community resources is available on the college’s website.
Montgomery County Community College
Montgomery County Community College developed a comprehensive strategy for supporting students facing mental and emotional health challenges during the current health crisis.
Prior to the transition to the virtual campus, the college was in the process of developing a Student Wellness Center to address students’ mental, physical, and emotional health. To support students while they are not able to attend the campus, the college is:
- Offering a list of local, state and national mental health and wellness resources posted on the college’s COVID-19 updates page,
- Assigning the College’s Student Support Services Specialist and student engagement staff in connecting with students for wellness checks,
- Providing students with weekly Wellness Center Wednesday activities via social media to encourage positive emotional health,
- Launching a Support Survey for students to alert the Student Affairs Team if they are experiencing mental health challenge (the survey is located on the COVID-19 Updates page), and
- Deploying a college-wide survey emailed to students, faculty and staff to get a snapshot of mental health challenges students are facing.
In addition to providing students with information on the most current community based resources and student engagement staffing to serve as a sounding board and provide them with resources, the college is also in the process of securing funding to support students who are facing financial challenges.
Northampton Community College
Before the health crisis hit, Northampton Community College (NCC) already firmly believed that students did not have to do it all on their own. The college has doubled down on that assessment and quickly migrated all student services, including counseling services, to remote delivery. These offerings include mental health, substance abuse, bilingual, career counseling and academic counseling, all now available through email, phone, or video chat.
Other support and activities offered include:
- A calling campaign that reached over 7,000 students in the first few weeks of the crisis.
- Raising $120,000 to date through NCC’s Spartan Aid Fund, with the knowledge that helping students meet basic needs such as food, utilities, and housing can reduce anxiety and support mental health.
- Inviting students, faculty and staff to self-care “quarantivity” events via Zoom, ranging from Zumba and yoga to art therapy and inspirational virtual field trips to favorite nature spots.
- Existing mental health services for employees through the College’s health insurance carrier and Employee Assistance Program (EAP) were expanded to include part-time employees. Through EAP, part-timers can now receive voluntary and confidential short-term counseling and referrals.
- Transforming the daily email for faculty and staff into not only a place for College news, but an opportunity for employees who are now working remotely to connect by sharing photos based around daily themes, such as #FamilyFriday and #TastyThursday. The email also shares tips for working remotely, and fun memes and good news to lift spirits.
- Holding weekly town hall Zoom meetings for employees with President Erickson, providing transparency and giving people the ability to ask questions.
- Daily and weekly communications with students, including a reassuring and motivating video from Dr. Erickson each week, and social campaigns and contests to keep students engaged and inspired.
- Videos for students from staff from tutoring, counseling, library services, and online learning, sharing tips and familiar faces.
- Offering a list of all college services and a comprehensive list of community support systems on the College’s Coronavirus Support and FAQs page.
Pennsylvania Highlands Community College
Student Services at Pennsylvania Highlands Community College have addressed mental health concerns from the very beginning of campus closures. The college embarked on a very aggressive calling and emailing approach and attempted to contact every student within the first three days of being away from campus. These calls continue at least once a week.
The college uses its Positive Actions with Students (PAWS) alert system to identify students that may need additional assistance during this time. Reported concerns may include such things as class attendance and participation issues, difficulty accessing proper technology, poor grades, and personal and behavioral concerns. In the first nine weeks of the semester, the college received approximately 125 referrals via this system. During the past three weeks, the college received 108 referrals.
Counselors have seen an increase in referrals for personal counseling and are fulfilling those requests by meeting with students by video or telephone.
The college also created videos that are posted on social media and sent to students. These videos offer tips on developing and improving coping skills. A student resource page on the Penn Highlands website includes additional tips and provides an opportunity for students to schedule a time to meet with a counselor.
Where appropriate and as needed, the college connects students with other community support systems. These may include drug and alcohol services, domestic violence information, food pantry and homeless shelter referrals.
Community College of Philadelphia
The Community College of Philadelphia continues to offer counseling services remotely, to both individuals and groups. The college established a student resource webpage which has a number of service options for students.
In addition, students can access services through the college’s Cares portal which can direct them to mental health, social services or economic support, including housing or food.
Westmoreland County Community College
Before Westmoreland County Community College staff transitioned to remote work, the Student Success team started contacting students individually to check on them and offer remote counseling and advising sessions. The staff has continued to do this on a daily basis, connecting with students via mail, phone, email, and zoom. Faculty members also have been trained on how to refer students to the counseling team for support during COVID-19.
The college’s Student Success team has also started virtual support activities for students. Counselor Corner Chats – open support groups where students can join via Zoom and talk about the challenges they are facing – have been well-received by students. Other virtual workshops have been launched on a variety of topics, including how to succeed at online courses, how to set healthy boundaries in relationships, and how to connect with community resources. One such workshop, a virtual drum circle, has provided students and their families a way to manage stress through music and relaxation techniques.
In addition, the college launched a Mental Health Resources page on www.westmoreland.edu. The page includes:
- Crisis line information
- Resources on personal care – relaxation techniques, workouts, etc.
- A list of community supports for students and families
- Virtual family activities, including tours of parks, zoos, museums, etc.
- COVID-19 resources
- Frequently Asked Questions to update students on changing information
The Student Success team has strengthened partnerships with many community organizations to help students access resources such as food, childcare, and technology. The college’s foundation also has provided financial support to assist in these areas, eliminating barriers to students’ success as they work to finish the semester. By eliminating these barriers, the college is helping students keep their focus on their academics and career goals.