I'm Kerry Bringhurst. This is Utah Public Radio and joining me is USU President Noelle Cockett.
The topic of mental health during COVID is one that's being discussed among family members as they're seeing more and more of their family members questioning quality of life and feeling isolated. Is that something that you're seeing among students at Utah State University, or even faculty and staff?
NC: Not so much increases in the number of people that are experiencing anxiety, depression, etc., but the severity is increasing. And so, people that might have had maybe a little bit of struggle are moving into more of a severe or needing more care, more resources. People are struggling.
KB: Yeah. Well, I know that you did send out an email of encouragement to students, staff and faculty. And also providing some resources. Was there something that prompted that email specifically?
NC: Yes. Unfortunately, we did lose students, a few current and recent graduates, to suicide. There were four in the month of January. And just to get a perspective on how concerning that is, over the past five, six years, we've seen a total of students who have died from suicide in the range between three and six total.
So having four students die from suicide in the month of January has been very, very concerning to us.
KB: You understand personally maybe what anxiety or depression might feel like. That's something that you have experienced yourself?
NC: Well, yes, I have. It was a few years ago, actually. I was the provost of the university and began to realize a dip in my spirits would suddenly bring me to anger or tears. And I remember one day my son and I were just talking about something and, all of a sudden, I started to cry. And my son, you know, just said, “Mom, this isn't you. This isn't how you normally are. Something's wrong.” You know, in the back of my mind, I just didn't realize how bad I had gotten. But people had noticed that this wasn't normal for me. And I went in. It was very clearly anxiety. And I was prescribed a medication. And literally that evening, I was better.
So that made me realize that sometimes we, ourselves, may not realize the change that is happening. But I want to encourage friends and family, if you see that happening with someone, just comment on it, reach out. And you may even have to make that appointment for them. It's so possible to get help, whether it's counseling or medication to help on this.
KB: Thank you for sharing that very personal story, President Cockett. Are there additional stresses being placed on the systems to support, and how would you recommend students go about getting that help?
NC: First, for students, our counseling center is called CAPS, Counseling and Psychological Services. They are doing all of their counseling sessions virtually. So, we aren't seeing a backlog. Particularly for those who might believe they're in a crisis situation, we can generally get a person in within 24/48 hours. We also recommend that people download the SafeUT app.
On the staff, we actually have a program, EAP, that's also free of charge to our employees as part of our health benefits.
KB: President Noelle Cockett, Utah State University, thank you for your time and thank you for sharing your insight on mental health and well-being as it relates to COVID-19 and students and faculty and employees at Utah State University. We really appreciate it.
NC: Well thank you so much Kerry for allowing me to be able to share our resources. We care about our Aggie family members.