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Loyola Sees At Least 20% Increase in Students Pursuing Wellness Center Services

Alec Karam | The PhoenixAfter virtual classes, students have returned to campus with more interest in the resources the Wellness Center

Ashley Parks, Loyola sophomore, said she struggled with depression throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and being in quarantine worsened her mental health struggles.

“What started my mental health journey was calling [Loyola’s] mental health services and setting up an appointment to talk about what was happening,” the advocacy and social change major said.

During the fall 2020 semester, when almost all classes were online, Parks said she reached out to the Wellness Center and used five free therapy sessions with a Loyola counselor. The Wellness Center—which provides medical, mental and physical health services to students, including free, short-term psychotherapy—then helped her find a more long-term therapist in the Chicago area.

“[The pandemic] forced me to deal with my mental health,” Parks, 19, said. “I don’t hide it. I don’t try to make it something to feel embarrassed about. I want it to feel like a normal thing.”

Sophia Wernecke, a sophomore majoring in environmental science, also said the pandemic has negatively impacted her mental health. However, she said she didn’t pursue Wellness Center resources because the process of reaching out to a mental health professional at Loyola wasn’t “intuitive” to her, and she wasn’t aware Loyola offered free short-term therapy sessions.

“It was really confusing, the amount of hoops I had to jump through to get to talk to someone,” Wernecke, 19, said.

Loyola’s Wellness Center has seen between a 20% and 25% increase in the number of students who have been pursuing services within the first three weeks of classes, according to Loyola’s Director of Counseling Dr. David deBoer.

deBoer said this is a substantial increase from two years ago. Factors such as a larger class size, more students coming to campus for the first time and COVID-19-related stress may have contributed, deBoer said.

Loyola’s statistics follow a national trend of elevated adverse mental health conditions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nearly 75% of adults between the ages of 18 and 24 reported, “Adverse mental or behavioral health symptoms,” in June 2020—the highest of any other age group at the time—according to a CDC survey.

CDC data also shows 57% of adults between the ages 18 to 29 experienced symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder the week prior to being surveyed in Jan. 2021. This was an increase from the previous survey conducted in August 2020, in which 49% of respondents reported such symptoms.

Anneliese Erickson, a sophomore nursing major, said she knows Loyola has a lot of mental health resources available for students but still felt alone last semester.

“My mental health got a lot worse, and it got to the point where I was like, ‘Okay, I am going to seek therapy,’” Erickson, 19, said.

However, Erickson said she wasn’t able to utilize the Wellness Center therapy sessions at the time because she lived out of state.

Alec Karam | The Phoenix While some students said they found support within the Wellness Center, others said they had to “jump through hoops” to talk to someone.

Students who weren’t living in Illinois throughout the pandemic were unable to access resources such as individual therapy because state law prohibits it, deBoer explained. However, with classes back in person this semester, the Wellness Center has taken steps to better reach students on campus.

Dan Radvany, a junior majoring in visual communications, said he experienced difficulties over the course of the pandemic, and he often felt isolated if he wasn’t surrounded by his family. Although he hasn’t reached out to the Wellness Center for support, he said he found beneficial distractions for himself and takes more time for breaks.

“[Loyola and the Wellness Center do] as much as they can,” Radvany, 21, said. “A lot of it is on the students though to take care of themselves.”

Loyola recently added two new positions—an academic support counselor who works within the Sullivan Center and a counselor within the Damen Student Center’s Campus Ministry Office. There is also a counselor for diversity, inclusion and social justice located in the Damen Student Center’s Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs Office.

Having counselors across the university—as opposed to them all working from the Wellness Center’s main location in the Granada Center—helps improve students’ access to mental health resources and, “Meet students where they’re really at,” deBoer said.

The Wellness Center also provides weekly newsletters with updates on health-related services, which students can subscribe to alongside its Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts. Ashlar, Loyola’s therapy dog, even has his own pages on Instagram and Facebook.

Mira Krivoshey, the Wellwness Center’s director for health promotion services, said students receive information about the Wellness Center through online health modules and orientation presentations before they even arrive on campus.

“We really try to be proactive in terms of getting in front of students so that they know what their resources are,” Krivoshey said.

Krivoshey also said Wellness Center staff members will be in the Damen Student Center’s Multi-Purpose Room for the Wellness Fair Oct. 6 from 1 to 4:30 p.m.—and students will be able to speak with them and ask questions, among other activities. The fair is just one part of next week’s “Wellness Week,” during which the Wellness Center is also offering virtual workshops, according to Krishovey and the center’s website.

deBoer said he encourages students to continue to, “Hold us [at the Wellness Center] accountable.”

“Another thing I would encourage students to do is to let the Student Government of Loyola Chicago’s (SGLC) Safety and Wellness Committee be their voice for us on things that are important to the student body,” deBoer said.

He said the Wellness Center meets with SGLC’s committee on a monthly basis to solicit student feedback.

The Wellness Center is open every day from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

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