COVID-19 has given college students more to worry about than making good grades and figuring out what major they want to pursue.
For students at Georgia Highlands College, many of them have lost jobs due to the pandemic, which has impacted how they provide for their families or pay for their education.
Many worry about their loved ones’ health as well as their own or have dealt with the death of friends and family or feel isolated from all the social distancing.
And many feel depressed and hopeless because it doesn’t seem like it’s ever going to end.
Recognizing how the pandemic is affecting college students, the University System of Georgia created a new initiative to give them access to additional mental health support services.
In November, the USG launched a comprehensive plan to significantly expand student mental health services during the COVID-19 pandemic after Gov. Brian Kemp announced in August that Georgia would allocate $11.5 million of Governors Emergency Education Relief funding, set aside by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, to support mental health and student support services within the USG.
As part of that plan, Georgia Highlands created Thrive@GHC, which connects students to a continuously monitored mental health support line; self-directed, online-based cognitive behavioral therapy; free telehealth and in-person treatment sessions provided by licensed mental health physicians; virtual psychiatric clinics to offer assessment and medication management; and personal student navigators to assist with referral coordination and support, according to Director of Student Services Angie Wheelus.
“Thrive@GHC is part of the University System of Georgia's Mental Health Initiative, which provides extra mental health services that we can now offer our students,” she said. “The USG conducted a survey of students during the end of the fall 2020 semester, and one of the significant concerns the students had was their mental health. This initiative provides funding and outside resourcing to address these issues and more.”
Wheelus said anxiety, depression and loneliness are the “most significant concerns” that students are dealing with, “but it’s not just the pandemic causing an increase in the need for mental health resources.”
“Students are concerned about school, finances, housing and much more,” she said. “With changes in normal activity for an entire year, losses in many areas such as life, jobs, health, income, connection and sense of normalcy, students are feeling the effects in their mental health.”
Having a program like Thrive@GHC, which went live Jan. 1, in place can “promote a lifestyle of holistic wellness, giving students 24/7 access to counselors and mental health resources to help them cope — from minor issues to major concerns,” Wheelus added.
The 24/7 mental health support line, 1-833-855-0082, is for in-the-moment support and direction on the next steps a student should take when seeking mental health resources.
ICARE — self-guided cognitive behavioral training that’s research-supported, internet-based and mobile-friendly — was developed specifically for college students who are experiencing depression, anxiety or both but do not need psychotherapy.
Additionally, FasPsych offers free psychiatric services such as evaluation and medication and prescription management for current GHC students. The cost of any prescribed medications, however, is not covered by the service.
“The wellness website provides ways students can tend to various parts of their mental health — from physical, emotional and social wellness to mental and even financial,” Wheelus said. “Having a 24/7 hotline number, students can access a counselor anytime from anywhere. Also, our currently enrolled students have access to psychiatric services, which are provided through this initiative. Students in need of assessments or medication management can access a psychiatrist free of charge.”
So far, Thrive@GHC is accomplishing what it set out to do, according to Wheelus.
“Students are accessing all services,” she said. “We just completed a ‘Welcome Back’ video to advertise our new services featuring campus leaders.”
By clicking The Wellness Hub at on Thrive@GHC’s website, sss.highlands.edu/thrive-ghc, Georgia Highlands students can utilize an app and an online wellness magazine with educational content, self-help tools and more resource links.
They also can contact the college’s counseling services at sss.highlands.edu for scheduling and referral.