Create more COVID-19 support groups

Tanya Chen

Trigger warning: discussions of mental health, depression and anxiety

This semester, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to juggle my classes, extracurriculars and personal relationships. With the COVID-19 pandemic looming heavily on my mind and the state of current events, it’s no surprise that my mental health has deteriorated over the past few months.

According to a September 2020 study conducted by Texas A&M University, 71% of college students surveyed experienced “increased stress and anxiety due to the COVID-19 outbreak.” Decreased social interaction, difficulty in concentrating and sleeping, academic pressure and public health concerns were identified as the most significant stressors persisting in students’ lives. 

While the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center seems to have had little trouble transitioning to virtual support services, the center should increase the number of COVID-related depression and anxiety support groups they offer. 

“I feel like the COVID-related support groups are really great,” Amanda Willis, an arts and entertainment technologies senior, said. “(They’re) an accessible way for people to connect with each other, learn healthy coping tips and make sure they’re taking care of themselves while dealing with everything else going on in the world. I know the CMHC is limited staffwise, but it would be really nice if they added more.”

Support groups can be a great alternative for students who don’t feel comfortable conversing in a one-on-one setting, but only three of the groups currently offered by the CMHC are directly related to pandemic anxieties. Increasing the number of general support groups for students who are experiencing increased anxiety and depression during the pandemic can make mental health care more accessible.

“We’re trying to gauge interest and see which groups tend to fill fastest,” said Marla Craig, senior associate director for clinical services at the CMHC. “We offer 40-45 groups per semester, and that’s a lot. That’s why student feedback is so important in deciding which ones to bring back or add in the coming semester.”

Craig stated that if end-of-semester feedback reflected an increased demand for general depression and anxiety support groups, the CMHC would be open to adding more in the future. She also acknowledged that support groups can be important to helping students feel less isolated in their mental health struggles. 

“Support groups can definitely seem more accessible, especially if you can get your friends to go with you,” Craig said. “Making mental health appointments can always be a scary thing … but knowing that you’re not alone can be very validating.”

Knowing this, the CMHC should implement more COVID-related support groups, especially since the pandemic will still have a major impact on students' lives in the upcoming semester. 

The problems students currently face regarding social isolation, depression and anxiety will only persist in the future, which means that the CMHC must respond accordingly. Students shouldn’t have to struggle during the spring 2021 semester to find accessible support groups for their mental health care needs.

If you feel like you would benefit from joining a support group, you can access a list of groups open to drop-ins here, or call 512-471-3515 for further questions.

Chen is a finance and Plan II sophomore from Austin, Texas.