By NOOR HAGHIGHI
A few weeks ago, my dad came home from Walgreens where he picked up some Zinc supplements for me. Many of us, myself included, have developed a keen sense of hypochondria during the pandemic. The slightest tickle in the throat scared me into believing that the virus was coming for me. He told me that all the supplements like Ashwagandha, which helps your body relieve stress, other nerve relaxants and stomach relaxants were quite scarce. When I stopped by Target later on, his claims were verified, as the sleeping pills and Vitamin Cs had also been wiped out.
It feels like everyone is on edge; that this nervousness in the air is not confined to any particular age group. It’s taken a toll on my friends and I as high schoolers; I’ve seen it ripping families apart and it’s hard to imagine how little Kindergarteners feel not having played with their buddies in the sandbox for months now.
With that being said, I wanted to take a closer look at what mental health resources our Tucson schools — from grade school to university — are providing for their students.
Catalina Foothills High School
Under the counseling department’s tab on the Catalina Foothills High School website, there is a subcategory titled “Mental Health and Wellness.” I was quite pleased to see this page split into even more specific categories including “Anxiety/Stress Management/Depression,” “Crisis Intervention” and “LGBTQIA+ Resources.” Under all these groupings, there is a conglomeration of links to organizations stretching from the county level to the national level, alongside several emergency lifelines.
Discovering this would have been even more satisfactory had our administration at Foothills done a better job of addressing these concerns so commonly seen amongst teenagers. On the other hand, since Coronavirus hit, the counseling department has reached out.
I spoke with my school counselor, Nicole Liljegren, on the overall mental health trends she’s noticed within the duration of remote learning. The counseling team at CFHS took the liberty of administering a survey to students which collected data on our stress levels and our reactions to online school. As a result, Liljegren said that “kids are definitely more stressed now.”
Although approximately 10 percent of students have said they loath online learning, she is hopeful about the resources available, one of which is the “Calming Room.” This space is available to all students on Google Classroom and has been dedicated to relieving a bit of stress through a means of music, guided meditation, visual relaxation, and live animal cams.
Before reaching out to Liljegren, I was skeptical about the effectiveness of the provided resources. Is a website link sufficient for a child who feels hopeless and is seeking guidance? Our meeting, however, reassured me that the students who feel that they need ample support do not seek direct advice from their school counselors. It turns out that most of these students either already partake in some sort of external therapy or are referred to their general physician for further guidance. The school counselors then typically receive minor mental health cases concerning stress and situational depression or other less severe personal conflicts.
Pima Community College
Pima Community College’s counseling page provides a variety of support systems ranging from a student’s scholastic endeavours to their “Personal Challenges.” Pima claims to provide referrals in areas such as “substance abuse, anger, relationships, and sexual abuse/assault.” The first referral underneath the counseling tab takes students to the counseling department and the second highlights their “Student Wellness Assistance Program.”
Again, I found a few hotlines and a link to a website called “Web Tribes” where you can “find your tribe” which, in other words, means you can access support groups with people who struggle with similar issues.
Of course, anything they list is helpful, though I found this “Student Wellness Assistance Program” difficult to navigate. Provided is a sublink that takes you to the Student Resources page in order to “get started.” However, upon clicking this link, you’re taken to an even more vague webpage that has nothing to do with explaining the wellness program in detail. I left the website disappointed that I really had no idea what it would entail, and students in need of it would certainly feel even more helpless.
Since the website was little help, I called the phone number that the “contact us” link took me to. Once again, Pima failed considering the automated voice said to “press 8 for all other inquiries,” after which I was taken to just another woman’s automated voice who provided no further instruction. I called yet another phone number by simply Google-searching “pima student services,” and was greeted by the third automated woman welcoming me to the “Pima Community College Student Support Center” — not much support at all, really. The only two options I was provided with then were to be redirected to admission and records or financial aid.
After the disappointment of PCC’s website and contact list, I was finally able to reach someone. I contacted Irene Robles-Lopez, who has a PhD in Educational Leadership and Policy Planning and is Vice President of Student Affairs at PCC, to touch base on the school’s mental health events and services. Robles-Lopez says that the Academic Success Counselors are working full time “to help the student be successful and address any issues the student may be experiencing.” In September, PCC Student Life and Counseling acknowledged Suicide Awareness Week with a prevention event that welcomed 50 participants. For the upcoming 2020 months, these two departments plan to hold a depression screening event, stress busting for finals week and a programming event to highlight Drunk and Drugged Driving Awareness Month (December).
University of Arizona
I have to say I’m most impressed with the University of Arizona, whose website has a variety of mental health services. The professionals at UArizona’s Counseling and Psych Services office — more commonly known as CAPS — assist students with issues like alcohol and drug concerns, crises and trauma, sexual assault and relationship violence, and “anything else you need to talk about.” This assurance welcomes students to seek out help.
Under the same tab, not only can you view services for emergency situations, but also for support in areas more commonly seen amongst the youth, such as self discovery. Under their tab labeled “Tools for What’s Happening Now,” students can find links to a “Coping with Covid Library” and a “Black Lives Matter Library,” both of which are a great help for those who have been significantly affected by the pandemic and the racial unrest in America, and for anyone interested in educating themselves.
UArizona has been especially busy tending to its CAPS members and although the service comes at an extra fee, it’s worth noting its benefits. Debra Cox-Howard, Substance Abuse Professional Counselor and Supervisor of Administrative Operations and Outreach at UArizona, tells us that the school is in the process of collecting data on the amount of students recently seeking out mental health guidance. However, she says that, in general, “more people are experiencing a sense of hopelessness” and that “at this particular time, students are seeking mental health services in order to address concerns with an increase in anxiety and depression.” Cox-Howard additionally advocates that the CAPS program, specifically, is checking in with students in isolation by phone and providing a free daily drop-in group via Zoom called Peace in the Pandemic.
The CAPS fees come at a rate per service. Cox-Howard assures us that, “[CAPS] fees do not prohibit students from receiving services as we have many assistance fund options that we can utilize on a case by case basis to offset the cost.” By visiting the following link and finding the columns that pertain to “Counseling and Psych Services,” you can view the various fees for any CAPS service: https://health.arizona.edu/student-discounted-rate
Despite the stark increase in mental health cases with the emergence of COVID-19, CFHS, PCC and UArizona seem hopeful for the future. Each school, in its own way, has developed apt practices as of the summer months, making them optimistic about providing their students with the help they need.