Navigating college on a post-COVID campus

Navigating college on a post-COVID campus

By John Tejada

College can be challenging enough — trying to be independent and forge a life apart from family and all that is familiar — but COVID-19 only posed more of a challenge for students, some of whom will return to campus this fall for the first time since the pandemic struck. 

Add heightened pandemic-related anxiety to any existing struggles with substance abuse or mental illness and some college students may need more help than ever. 

“We see a lot of stressors related to campus living, even pre- COVID. A lot of peer pressures regarding partying, as well as academic stressors like how can they maintain themselves in a socially healthy way while still maintaining their good academic standing,” said Dr. Carrie Pichie, regional director of ambulatory services at Natchaug Hospital. 

Such needs prompted creation of the Mansfield Young Adult Program-College Track at Natchaug. The intensive outpatient program takes place three hours per day, three times per week for students at the University of Connecticut and Eastern Connecticut State University. Treatment is designed for those struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues, when meeting with a college counselor isn’t enough. 

According to Dr. Pichie, the pandemic doubled the struggle for students in treatment who had to leave campus and study at home, then leave home and return to school.

“For many of them who lived on campus and were forced to move back home, there is the feeling of missing their college experience, having to transition from collegiate independence back to living with their parents and feeling some isolation,” she said. “With the return, there is already the stress of fitting in socially, pressure if you want to study but your friends are having a party. It becomes hard to say no.”

Although treatment is positive, Dr. Pichie said many students fear classmates finding out. 

“For those who suffer with behavioral health issues or substance abuse, there’s still a stigma attached with it, discrimination toward individuals struggling. If there were students who didn’t want their peers to know they were receiving this treatment, we realized we would be better off providing it at one of our locations,” she said. 

The setting allows students to feel more comfortable working with their provider and participating openly in group sessions. 

“I think it’s a really good resource. We have seen students at the point of almost failing out because their mental health issues are interfering so much. Then, they’re getting back on track through our program, working with their teachers and dean. I think it’s a valuable resource,” Dr. Pichie said. 

Dr. Carrie Pichie helps students adjust to campus life by addressing any substance use or mental health issues that might prevent their success. 

Photo by Jeff Evans