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Virtual Health Center

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College students, more vulnerable to mental illnesses like anxiety and depression, are also facing a global pandemic increasing their likeliness to develop these illnesses. 

To ease the burdens of some, Pierce College held a virtual health fair event on March 16 and 17 organized by Beth Benne, the Student Health Center director.

The fair covered a wide range of topics including mental health, heart health, nutrition and COVID-19 precautions.

In one of the forums, mental health professionals spoke on the causes and risk factors of mental illnesses like depression, stress, and anxiety. 

Postdoctoral therapist, Masoumeh Nourshahi, addressed the immense impact COVID-19 had on college students’ mental health during quarantine. 

“For example, one study indicates rates of major depressive disorder among college students, doubled in 2020 compared to 2019, which is significantly higher,” Nourshahi said. “Another study also confirmed these findings are showing 90% increase in depression rate during these two years, and every study also showed the proportion of college students at the risk of clinical depression ranges from 46% to 69% from March to July.”

During the meeting, Pierce therapist Roz Hedayatian, addressed some coping mechanisms students could use to counter depression. 

“These protective factors can include seeing a therapist, being in good physical health, having job security, being responsible for children, having pets, having the support of a significant other or support from friends, having plans for the future, having a duty to others, going on medication if need be, sobriety, decreasing substance use, and having life and problem solving skills are just a few,” Hedayatian said. 

Attendees at the event were able to partake in a meditation exercise that aimed to get students to relax as they focused on their bodies and their breath.

Postdoctoral therapist Inbar Malevski said some of the benefits of practicing regular meditation included reducing anxiety and depression, facilitating a positive mindset, improving concentration and reducing chronic pain. 

In one of the other panels that focused on stress and anxiety, Malevski helped students understand the difference between the two commonly mistaken terms.

“It’s important to know that stress is typically caused by an external trigger, something that happens in our environments, versus anxiety, that is basically persistent excessive worries that don’t go away even in the absence of stressors.” Malevski said. 

They also recommended engaging in safe hobbies, regular exercise, mindfulness, socializing, setting goals, sobriety and deep breathing exercises to reduce levels of anxiety.

The meeting was concluded with a deep breathing exercise guided by Hedayatian. According to Hedayatian, the exercise helps students lower levels of anxiety and it discourages the fight or flight response mechanism which triggers anxiety. Hedayatian said by practicing this consistently, students can experience decreased levels of anxiety. 

Health counselors offered several resources that can be found on the Pierce portal, such as free group or individual counseling which can help treat depression and anxiety.