Return to in-person class at UW raises mental health issues for some | Crosscut

Return to in-person class at UW raises mental health issues for some | Crosscut

The Student Disability Commission is urging the administration to ensure remote and hybrid options indefinitely to make education more equitable beyond the pandemic. The university met with members of the ASUW Disability Commission in early February, said Michelle Ma, associate director of UW News. The commission and administration agreed to continue meetings to address student needs on how to make future decisions regarding COVID-19 adjustments.  

ASUW’s Gallant said he benefits from in-person learning as someone with anxiety, depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but acknowledges this is not the case for all students.  

“Let people have autonomy and agency over their educational experience. And if they feel safest in the classroom, so be it,” he said. “But if they feel the safest at home or remote, let them have that opportunity and still receive the equitable education experience that we were promised.” 

The return to in-person learning hasn’t been easy for faculty, staff and students with children, either. 

Like other faculty with young children, Benjamin Brunjes had to juggle parenting while teaching classes remotely. As an assistant professor in UW’s Daniel J. Evans School of Public Policy and Governance, Brunjes also found himself leading his eight children through their own online classes. Juggling the two, in addition to trying to build community with 60 students he mostly hasn’t met, has been an additional stressor, he said.

“The key right now is being flexible and nimble: build an environment where there is trust and communication, give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and do what you can to keep people safe,” Brunjes wrote in an email.

The increase in stress, anxiety and depression seen over the past two years likely wouldn’t exist without the pandemic, said Dr. Jane M. Simoni, a clinical psychologist and professor and director of clinical training in UW’s psychology department. While many hoped for normalcy after the COVID vaccine rollout last spring, vaccine hesitancy, variants and the uncertain nature of the pandemic have engendered a sense of hopelessness, she said.

“People in general want a sense of control in their life. They want to feel as if they’re experiencing something that’s predictable, and that’s just everything that epidemic was not,” Simoni said. 

If students’ anxiety or depression worsens or persists, Simoni and Foo Kune of the UW Counseling Center both recommend accessing therapy, either on campus or through their health insurance providers. Students can access mental health services on campus through the counseling center, but some students report that accessing assistance quickly can be difficult. 

Julie Emory, a first-year graduate student in UW’s information management program, said she tried booking a 30-minute appointment in January after receiving news that her grandfather died as a result of COVID-19. The earliest available appointment was a month away. 

Foo Kune said the center allows for students to schedule appointments two weeks out to avoid cancellations. Students can call the center to be put on a cancellation list to be seen quicker in case an appointment is canceled. 

“Most people are going to do well; they’re resilient,” Simoni said. “For some people, it will be difficult to recover.” 

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