Mental health has become an increasing area of concern since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nationwide spikes in counseling activity have made their way to Palm Beach Atlantic University and Director of the Counseling Center, Jeremy Bonta, has witnessed it firsthand.
PBA’s counseling center started in 2005 and Bonta began his career there in 2014. Statistics show there was already a growing demand for counseling services within the student demographic. Bonta pointed out that when he first started, there was an average of 60 student visits per year. Now, that number is approaching 500 students engaged in counseling.
“That number has only skyrocketed since the pandemic,” Bonta says.
Though students typically do not have a need for counseling during the first few weeks of school this year, Bonta had already received appointment requests from 60 students as early as July.
According to Bonta, these students experienced “a gamut of emotions.” He mentioned isolation was named one of the chief contributors to the nation's steady decline in mental health, in addition to anxiety, depression, and familial stress. Issues with mental health due to isolation, especially, have had a national increase throughout the course of the pandemic. This was a large factor in the steady decline in mental health.
Despite the mounds of statistics, students are much more receptive to counseling and have managed to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health- an unexpected benefit to the adverse mental health effects of the pandemic.
Students are increasingly seeking guidance for a myriad of issues, including being in college the first time, but also dealing with family conflict, anxiety and mood disorders.
Bonta points out that there are many students who continue to suffer emotionally, but avoid counseling. When looking at the statistics for students who have untreated mental health issues, he stated about 75% of students do not seek help. 68% of students with untreated mental health concerns do not receive degrees, which could be concerning to students everywhere, he added.
“Mental health concerns are highly treatable – we have data to back that up,” Bonta contended.
He expressed that if we want to achieve our goals, we have to do the hard things.
“I validate the fact that it is hard to get out of bed some days when you are struggling, but seeking help is really important,” he says.
In response to the pandemic's visible impacts on mental health, Bonta started a student group called Active Minds, which is dedicated to creating awareness, reducing stigma and bringing an educational component to campus. At the end of October, Active Minds spoke in PBA’s DeSantis Chapel over the course of a week to extend their services to additional students in need.
By McKay Campbell