Mental health is being affected by the coronavirus pandemic, but the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Counseling and Psychological Services continues to support students. 

Laura Shell, associate director of Big Red Resilience & Well-Being, and Tricia Besett-Alesch, director and interim training director of CAPS, said social and financial stressors, such as moving home mid-semester or losing campus jobs, are the main ways students’ mental health has been affected. 

Shell said Big Red Resilience emailed check-in surveys during the virtual learning period of the spring semester to some students to assess how they were managing their mental health. Shell said the results showed students’ social and financial dimensions of well-being were affected the most. 

“Some students have reported feeling loneliness, and we’ve had students express concerns about finances, and these experiences align with the national trends we keep hearing about,” Shell said.

All interviews were conducted through email.

Watch for warning signs

If someone is concerned about their mental health or someone else’s, Shell said there are warning signs to watch for. These include withdrawing from social activities, exhibiting unexplained anger or aggression, giving away prized possessions, increasing use of alcohol or drugs, acquiring a gun or stockpiling pills.

“If you’re noticing any red flags, you can make a big difference by simply asking someone, ‘How are you today?’ and starting a conversation,” Shell said.

Shell said Big Red Resilience also offers free online QPR (Question. Persuade. Refer.) Suicide Prevention Gatekeeper Training for UNL students, staff and faculty, which is a three-step process to understand warning signs of suicide and how to respond.

Reach out to friends, family

Shell said one way to assist someone struggling with their mental health is to identify one challenge in their life and start working on that. For example, Shell said if someone is feeling lonely because they’re living with their parents who are continuing to work full-time, they could call their friend instead of connecting solely via social media. Shell said that by helping someone with their social health, their overall health will improve.

“Small changes in one dimension of well-being can make a big change in your overall well-being,” Shell said. 

Other ways of improving mental health include maintaining a regular sleep schedule, limiting alcohol and caffeine intake, exercising and taking up activities which require use of the body and mind like knitting or playing an instrument, according to the CAPS emotional wellness and COVID-19 website

Use available resources

Shell said UNL is continuing to offer most of its resources, but they are being offered in different formats, like phone sessions or via Zoom. 

Shell said Big Red Resilience has been going live on their Instagram every day through the month of May at 10 a.m. to share 10 minutes of motivation, named 10@10. During their live sessions, Shell said staff from Big Red Resilience and students can share well-being tips that range from how to get a workout started to information about personality tests, which can help assess one’s mental health, and social media recommendations on how to use and limit one’s social media. Well-being coaches are also available via Zoom.

“The most important thing is that students seek support if they need it from CAPS, loved ones and/or someone they trust,” Besett-Alesch said.

UNL also has the Collegiate Recovery Community for students in recovery or seeking recovery from addiction, Shell said. 

Instead of its normal in-person workshops, Big Red Resilience now provides virtual workshops that focus on different aspects of mental health, such as Coping with COVID-19, which are available through the website. For other workshops, students may need to request access.

CAPS is no longer conducting in-person visits due to the coronavirus, but the service is continuing remote appointments with students by phone or Zoom.

“I really want to stress that UNL faculty and staff are committed to helping students through this,” Shell said. “Even though our experiences are different, we’re also going through the pandemic, and we want to help.”