Young people hit hard by pandemic, now more college students interested in studying mental health

BOSTON — One of the biggest consequences of the pandemic is the continuing impact on mental health. Young people have experienced some of the biggest jumps in anxiety and depression.

According to www.kff.org, 56% of 18–24-year-olds have reported symptoms of anxiety or depression during the pandemic. That compares to less than 30% of people over 65 years old.

Since July, four students at Worcester Polytechnic Institute have died suddenly. Two have been officially been deemed suicide.

“It’s very tragic,” said one student on campus. “We’ve seen it too many times.”

Assumption University sophomore Maura Shanley knows the power of reaching out for help and now wants to be able to offer a hand to someone who is struggling someday.

“I didn’t get help for my mental health for a long time because of fear of being judged or something,” Shanley said. “But my life got better after I did.”

Shanley is now considering a career in rehabilitation counseling.

Dr. Christian Williams, Ph.D., is a professor of practice at Assumption. She’s also a practicing psychologist. She says she’s seeing more students interested in going into helping professions.

“They’re talking openly about wanting to work with people around mental health more than they have in the past,” Williams added.

Williams isn’t surprised more students are considering this career track against the backdrop of the pandemic.

“One of the things that’s always been interesting in the field is that we do know about 50% of practitioners come from a place of having an experience that drives them into the field.”

Grace Chicko, a sophomore at the Worcester university, said, “I feel more people are interested in this because of COVID, due to the fact that our world just completely flipped upside down. We want to rebuild it to what it used to be.”

Isaiah Buster, another sophomore, said he saw a huge rise in depression among his peers.

“I feel like it’s almost mandatory for me to just give back to my community.”

Other schools in the area are seeing the same trend.

William James College in Newton, which specializes in behavioral health, just enrolled their largest class this fall. Cambridge College is also seeing increased interest from its students.

The pain of the pandemic will cast a long shadow for years to come. But when it comes to mental health, Maura Shanley is hoping for a silver lining.

“I definitely can understand more people feeling more effects of mental health just because of such a big shift in routine, but I also think that through that, we’re talking about mental health a lot more than we used to, which I think is a better thing,” Shanley said.

The field will welcome an influx of new professionals. There is a severe shortage of medical health workers and it can be very difficult for a patient to book an appointment.

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