TAMPA, Fla. — Coronavirus concerns have increased stress levels for college students as they adjust to everything from new learning environments to transitioning to their "new normal."

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Students like University of Tampa sophomore Ishani Chetal tell us all of that chaos is over COVID-19 concerns.

“Your mind is focused on so many different things," said Chetal. "Like, is your family OK? Your friends OK? Are they all OK? But you still have to keep on top of the schoolwork which adds to the chaos.”

That chaos has made for a difficult semester as she began her nursing courses.

“The only way we’re learning is through our textbooks and Zoom classes," she explained. "But we’re not really getting the hands-on learning that we need."

Primary concern is technology

St. Petersburg College Professor Dr. Carleah East, a licensed mental health counselor and clinical psychotherapist, said many college students like Chetal are struggling.

“The primary concern is technology," said East, who is in charge of mental mental health and wellness operatives at SPC, is the Director of Project HEAL and also CEO and Founder of SMILE Psychology & Associates. "Let me make sure that I get my assignments, let me make sure I stay connected.” 

She said the number of college students seeking mental health care in Florida went from a 30 percent increase from 2019 to 2020, but she says that number has increased to about 80 percent this year.

“What I’m seeing is a lot of anxiety and a lot of depression that’s going on with our students," said East. "Anxious about their futures but just anxious about their health, their overall environment."

To help students cope, Dr. East suggests they talk it out, write it out and balance it out.

"Balancing it out is acknowledging the hope and good in everyday," she explained. “Instead of focusing on the negative all the time, we practice teaching them to re-frame their thoughts so they're more positive.”

Leaning on family, friends for support

For now, Chetal relies on family, friends and teachers for support. She recently had a virtual meeting with an adviser.

"She said the best thing to do is really use the planner to block out sections of your day, when you're going to study for each class," said Chetal.

Leaning of family, friends, and fellow nursing students has been helpful.

“Without them I feel like my head space wouldn’t be clear.”

Opportunity to invest in college mental health programs?

For her part, East does see potential for some good to eventually come out of the crisis in terms of mental health care in higher education.

“This is an opportunity for us to really research and invest in our mental health programs across our college campuses,” she said.

In the short term, she just wants to make sure those who need help are reaching out, even if they aren't on campus, as everyone transitions into their new normal.

“I think it’s a whole new transition we’re going through together,” said Chetal.