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Higher education can provide COVID-19 telehealth services for vulnerable campus populations

The pandemic isn’t good news for anyone’s mental or physical health, but it’s even more threatening for those in vulnerable populations. 

Since the pandemic began, 60 percent of college and university students reported that they’ve found it more difficult to access mental health support. College students—especially the vulnerable students—have always needed this type of support.

Now more than ever before, it’s crucial for them to receive the healthcare options they so desperately need.

From March (the start of the coronavirus) through May, a higher number of students reported that their mental health negatively impacted their academics. Reports of depression, suicide risk, and anxiety as it relates to academics increased from the fall of 2019 to the spring of 2020 for college students. 

The largest mental health struggle for these groups is the financial stress caused by the pandemic, along with the lack of accessible healthcare, according to a survey of more than 18,000 college students on 14 campuses by the Healthy Minds Network.

Others are struggling with loneliness and isolation while they’re sheltering in place. The uncertainty and abrupt changes that continue to happen on campuses throughout the country isn’t helping either, according to a study published in June.

What’s even worse is that university students who are Black, asian, first generation, low income, LGBTQ, Native American, and disabled—among others—are disproportionately impacted, according to the American College Health Association.

“We know from history that our most vulnerable citizens—marginalized, low income, underserved, and people of color—are the same people who suffer the most during a global health crisis,” says Devin Jopp, CEO of ACHA. “That holds true on college campuses as well. It’s incumbent on the higher education community to protect and support those of us who need it most, and remove the barriers they face in completing their education.”

In August, the ACHA presented various ways to support the vulnerable campus populations during a time when uncertainty throughout college campuses is causing a staggering amount of anxiety.

A whopping 60 percent of college students say they believe they’re susceptible to contracting the virus.

They’re concerned about their personal safety, and they’re worried that the people they care about will become sick.

It’s worse for the vulnerable populations: 41 percent of people on campus reported that they’ve witnessed discrimination or hostile behavior toward others as a result of the pandemic due to their race or ethnicity, the ACHA study found.

In general, marginalized, low income, and people of color are often blamed for diseases, the ACHA finds. As a result, the association suggests that colleges and universities take extra steps to care for these groups right now.

One major way these academic institutions can help their vulnerable populations is to offer telehealth and telemental health options. 

“ACHA created these guidelines because we want to provide institutions with a roadmap for achieving educational and health equity despite the challenges brought on by this pandemic,” Jopp says.

Telehealth services provide necessary care to patients during the pandemic—and recent changes to insurance policies have reduced barriers to telehealth access, the CDC says. Professional medical societies across the board endorse telehealth, and are working hard to provide guidance for usage in the evolving landscape.

Because Health created a telehealth program that’s customized to fit individual institutional needs.

"We have a robust nationwide network of physicians who are available via video chat, messaging, and even in-person consults to help with medical issues," says Anders Boman, founder and CEO of Because Health.

Plus, the Because Health platform has a complete tech team to help with any issues that may arise. It’s an entire personalized, whole healthcare program for individuals and for the universities that help those individuals. 

Even prior to the coronavirus pandemic, universities began turning to telehealth platforms to help students with their mental health, as it’s a safe and discrete form of therapy. The most common reasons for students to seek out mental health assistance are anxiety (48 percent), stress (39 percent) and depression (35 percent), according to research by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors.

The need for virtual healthcare support on campus is stronger than ever due to the risks of COVID-19 infection among student populations in academic settings. Thankfully, many academic institutions are extremely supportive of the social distancing aspect of telehealth, which is key. 

It’s a win-win.

Danielle Braff
Danielle Braff is a former magazine editor and newspaper reporter turned award-winning freelance writer specializing in lifestyle, health, business, shopping, parenting and travel writing. Her articles have appeared in dozens of magazines and newspapers including the Chicago Tribune, Crain’s Chicago Business, Women’s Health, Self, Woman’s Day, Men’s Health, Budget Travel, Health, Marie Claire, New York Newsday, Chicago Sun-Times, Better Homes and Gardens, Time Out New York Kids, and Every Day with Rachel Ray. Danielle is also the Chicago correspondent for Afar magazine, and she writes its weekly column about what to do in and around Chicago.