Throughout the year, thousands of colleges and universities were forced to close to contain the spread of COVID-19. These closures resulted in many campus services moving into an online format, including the Counseling Center.
“A lot of people are not very happy about having it be this way, but once people try it, they find that it is a good experience,” Missouri Western counselor Katie Jeffers said.
On March 18, Missouri Western decided to close campus after extending spring break by a week. This was a response to the growing number of COVID-19 cases.
While Buchanan County only had three cases at the time, the total cases in the United State amounted to nearly 164,000. As the total cases in the United States rose, shortly after extending spring break, former President Matt Wilson sent an announcement to the student body explaining the administration's decision to close campus.
The announcement explained what was next for students still continuing classes during the semester, living in residence halls, and eating at the cafeteria. However, the announcement did not address how essential campus services, such as the Health Center, the Center for Academic Support and the Counseling Center, were moving forward.
“We went ahead and canceled for everybody's safety because we don't have enough space to accurately social distance,” Jeffers said.
The Counseling Center converted their traditional in-person meetings to be either through video chat or telephone in a process called Telehealth. The center’s Telehealth format includes the use of Google Meet rather than Zoom, which the majority of Missouri Western students use for their classes.
“I've heard horror stories of trying to get into Zoom meetings,” Jeffers said.
Zoom-bombing is a recent development due to the increased use of the popular video chatting app. It occurs when an individual purposely hijacks a private Zoom call, sometimes playing disturbing material to those on the call. The center chose Google Meet to ensure that the student is the only recipient of the video chat link.
“We make sure this link is going directly to you at your session time,” Jeffers said. “It's not floating around out there, and nobody can get in.”
However, once in-person classes were canceled, the number of students seeking out mental health counseling from the center decreased.
“Initially, nobody realized we were still available,” Jeffers said.
Missouri Western psychology professor Dr. Jon Mandracchia explained how many students are used to meeting face-to-face with counselors rather than on Google Meet.
“Those are options not as well-known,” Mandracchia said. “A lot of people wouldn't even think of that as a viable option.”
Along with Telehealth, the current stigma around mental health plays a pressing role in why college students are reluctant to pursue counseling. Historically, public perception of mental health has been overwhelmingly negative. Although mental health awareness has significantly improved, Mandracchia explains that many people continue to believe that mental health is a personal weakness that should not be acknowledged.
“Seeking out help and treatment is an acknowledgement to yourself and other people that you have this perceived weakness or flaw,” Mandracchia said.
Additionally, Jeffers explains how many students that were worried about their fellow classmates potentially seeing them in the counseling center no longer have to worry.
“You can do this from your home, in your dorm or wherever is comfortable for you,” Jeffers said.
The Counseling Center helps students overcome anxiety and depression, manage everyday stressors, improve motivation and concentration, increase self-confidence and find help with alcoholism, drug abuse and eating disorders. Missouri Western students are encouraged by faculty to seek out counseling when needed.
“You shouldn’t wait until it's a severe experience, when your functioning is terrible and you’re failing all your classes,” Mandracchia said. “When you start feeling like, ‘Wow, I could use some help. This is kind of getting overwhelming.’ I think that is enough to get some help.”