KENOSHA, Wis.— It has been widely researched that college students have suffered far more mental health issues as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Virtual learning, isolation, the inability to be on campus and pre-existing mental health conditions have all played a significant role.

Emma Cork is a junior at Carthage College.  She loves learning and graduates this May, with plans to pursue a masters degree

“With everything going on, staying in school a bit longer is probably for the best,” she said.

The tall, brunette woman looks over the top of her glasses while reading part of an online lesson.  She’s outgoing and friendly, which makes it even more surprising when she reveals she suffers daily from severe social anxiety.

“The pandemic casts life and death already in an extreme way,” she said.  “With anxiety, it’s even worse and you constantly think of the worst case scenario.”

Emma has utilized Carthage College’s counseling services throughout the pandemic, despite not being able to sit face-to-face with the person she’s talking to.  Counseling sessions at Carthage, like at most schools nationwide, have transitioned to a virtual format.  

Emma admits often times, these sessions are what keeps her afloat.

“Having the ability to contact the counseling center via video chat has been a life-saver for me,” she said.

The college is expanding its virtual mental health offerings into next fall, in part, because of students like Emma.  In February, it partnered with UWill, a national telehealth program.  UWill gives students access to on-demand counseling with a licensed professional, no matter where they are.

Lydia Zopf is the college’s director of health and counseling services.  She said since counseling services became virtual, she knows there are students who are slipping through the cracks.

“As we were thinking about the needs for our students and what was most crucial, that’s the group of students I think about it,” Zopf said.  “UWill stood out to us because students are able to connect with a provider within 24-hours and sometimes even within a few hours.”

Lydia added it’s one of the most stressful situations for her to speak with a student experiencing a mental-health crisis and not be there physically to help them.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention polled about 5,500 students April through June 2020.  Nearly 41% reported adverse mental health symptoms by the end of June. In people ages 18 to 24, that number skyrocketed to almost 75%.

Carthage College reports 75% of students say they use UWill to manage anxiety.  The same statistic is true for those that utilize the platform to manage stress. 50% of students reported using UWill for depression.

Emma is grateful more students like her now have another virtual option.  Her primary advice for anyone struggling with a mental health issue is to not be afraid to talk about it.

“If you talk about it, it already breaks down those walls and it will help you and help other people,” she said.  

Other colleges in Wisconsin have transitioned to virtual counseling services and expanded what they already offered.  This includes Marquette University and the UW System.