As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spark a long-overdue conversation on mental health, May 2021 could mark the most critical Mental Health Awareness Month yet.
During the pandemic, approximately 4 in 10 adults in the United States have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, up from 1 in 10 adults who experienced these symptoms in 2019. Of course, not all groups experienced hardships equally. Both the pandemic and the highly charged environment of the last year have exacerbated the already disparate mental health needs for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) communities, which experienced the additional emotional burden of racial violence. Studies also show that members of the LGBTQ+ community are experiencing pandemic hardships differently than non-LGBTQ+ people. A recent analysis found that three-fourths of LGBT people say pandemic-related stress has had a negative impact on their mental health, as compared to 49 percent of those who do not identify as LGBT.
As with many movements, colleges and universities have been at the forefront of raising awareness for mental health and breaking the stigma around it. Here are some of New York Tech’s initiatives aimed at addressing these issues.
“With the pandemic, we have seen large increases in the number of students dealing with anxiety, depression, isolation, and trauma. Counseling and Wellness felt it was necessary to increase our resources and offer coping strategies specific to COVID-19,” says Michael Schneider, director of counseling and wellness.
The Bear Care Package is designed to help students manage pandemic-related stressors. The package includes strategies, coping mechanisms, and resources to help with anxiety, depression, as well as other mental health issues. A new Counseling and Wellness tile on mynyit.edu allows students to quickly and easily find information regarding wellness services, including accessibility services, COVID-19 resources, immunization compliance, and Aetna health insurance information.
Both the New York City and Long Island campuses offer free group and individual counseling sessions. Emailing a counselor and setting an appointment up is the easiest way to start sessions, and there is no waitlist for virtual meetings. There are two counselors at each New York campus. Students feeling disconnected from the in-person experience have also found comfort with virtual counseling and the advantages that it offers, such as accessibility and convenience.
“Some students even report feeling less stigma attending appointments as they do not have to worry about ‘being seen’ walking into the Counseling and Wellness office,” says Christine Alter, associate director of Counseling and Wellness.
Schneider also emphasizes the importance of reducing the stigma through open conversations. “This was an issue pre-pandemic. People are really suffering and need help. Unfortunately, some people feel that if they reach out for help, others will think, ‘something is wrong with them.’ Having open conversations about mental health helps people realize it’s perfectly normal to feel a certain type of way, and it’s ok to talk to someone about it,” he says.
Students are also encouraged to follow the Office of Counseling and Wellness’s Instagram accounts (@nyitcounselingandwellnessli for the Long Island campus, and @nyitcounselingandwellnessnyc for the New York City campus) to stay in touch.
The NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine (NYITCOM) Center for Behavioral Health (CBH) has also been making strides to destigmatize mental health conditions. The education and training for health professions can result in high stress levels and burnout. Without treatment, that stress can lead to serious results. Tragically, according to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, approximately 30 percent of medical students and residents suffer from depression, and 10 percent report having suicidal thoughts.
The center provides medical students and School of Health Professions students with psychiatric and psychological services that are confidential, discreet, readily available, and currently completely via telemedicine on a HIPPA compliant platform. In addition to raising awareness for mental health issues through its social media presence (@NYITCenterforBH), the CBH is rolling out a mental health screening for medical students to help identify those who are struggling or may be at risk.
In addition to these services, New York Tech employees requiring assistance should review benefits available through the Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
Although young adults are estimated to have the lowest COVID-19 mortality rates, they are not immune to its mental health consequences. As reported in the Spring 2021 issue of The Slate, Ambika Siddabathula, a sophomore in the Life Sciences, B.S./Osteopathic Medicine, D.O. program, and several other undergraduate students recently helped to establish a New York Tech chapter of the nonprofit organization Active Minds.
The nonprofit organization is dedicated to raising mental health awareness among college students through peer-to-peer dialogue and interaction. The group recently held an event in collaboration with several New York Tech student-run and Greek Life organizations called “Giving Back Starts with You,” where attendees wrote letters to those who have been negatively impacted by the pandemic. The chapter also has a dedicated social media presence (@nyit_activeminds) and encourages students to follow along, get involved, and help bust the stigma surrounding mental health.
In addition to Siddabathula, who serves as president, the chapter’s leaders include life sciences major Rodrigue Jean Baptiste (vice president), biology major Nazia Rahman (chapter treasurer), architecture student Chris Thomas (senator), and life sciences major Bushra Aftab (secretary). Siddabathula and Rahman have also created the children’s book Santhari’s Magical Bindi, which aims to empower South Asian girls and women.
Nazia Rahman (top right) and Ambika Siddabathula (bottom left) display their children’s book Santhari’s Magical Bindi.
Training Future Counselors
Recognizing the need for more trained mental health professionals, New York Tech recently launched its M.S. in Mental Health Counseling program. The fully online program will prepare graduate students to become licensed mental health counselors who will be prepared to provide individual, group, and family therapy, as well as health counseling, occupational and vocational counseling, career planning, crisis intervention, and outreach services. Graduates will be equipped with the skills and knowledge to advocate for issues and concerns related to a culturally diverse society while functioning as mental health counselors. In addition to the many other skills acquired during their training, this next generation of counselors will develop an understanding of cultural factors relevant to mental health counseling and learn how to serve a complex and diverse population.
DEI Series: Mental/Physical Health Protectionsfor BIPOC Against Racism
8 – 9 p.m.
Sponsored by Student Life and Career Services, the discussion will focus on how to create more empathetic academic and work environments with a lasting impact while easing unnecessary sources of stress.
Civic Thursday: Creating Your Mental/Physical Health Action Plan
1 – 2 p.m.
Sponsored by the Office of International and Experiential Education and Student Life, the workshop will offer attendees the opportunity to create personalized templates for steps to directly address the feelings, symptoms, circumstances, and events that are most troubling.
No Stress Tuesdays
Noon – 1 p.m.
The free, weekly meditation sessions for New York Tech students and employees are facilitated by Julian West, a New York Tech student mentored by alumna Laeticia Hervy, who studied how to integrate spirituality into her lifestyle. Under Hervy’s mentorship, West is prepared and eager to share the beauty of heart-based meditation with everyone.