Manhattan College Counseling Center Establishes a COVID Support Group

by, Kyla Guilfoil & Zoe DeFazio, Asst. News Editor & Staff Writer

To respond to the mental health needs of students, the Manhattan College counseling center has initiated a COVID support group. This weekly group meeting is intended to give students both a voice and support while they navigate this “new normal.”

Anthony Nazaire, LM-HC-LP, is a staff clinician at the college’s counseling center and the head organizer of the new COVID support group.

“The counseling center provides individual therapy and several support groups,” Nazaire said. “When the counseling center identifies an issue that many students are experiencing, we put together a group to address the needs of the students.”

The group began on Feb. 10, and meets every Wednesday at 3 p.m. Nazaire shared that there was shock following the abrupt end of the in-person spring 2020 semester, indicating a need for support as the pandemic radically affected college campuses across the country. He noted that there has been an increase of students seeking counseling since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Florentina Onolfo, a junior at MC and president of the psychology club, agrees that there is a greater need for emotional support since the pandemic has begun.

“On top of the normal anxiety regarding grades, classes, homework, and exams, there is the additional stress of not wanting to catch COVID and taking precautions as a result,” Onolfo said. “This means many students did not return to campus which can be seriously hard to adjust to in terms of mental health and a sense of feeling ‘normal.’ I hope that the COVID support group is helping both in-person and virtual students who are having a hard time with isolation, social distancing, time management, and expressing any emotions they may be feeling.”

Onolfo adds that it is increasingly difficult for students to maintain a high level of work while isolated in their bed- rooms for most of their days.

“The stress of the pandemic has been challenging in many ways, but support groups give space for students to share their experiences,” Nazaire said. “Students are able bring their personal experience and receive support and validation from each other.”

Onolfo believes that these conversations are both necessary and beneficial for students.

“I have found that bottling up anxiety, stress, sadness, or anything else one might be feeling is damaging to mental health and productivity,” On- olfo said. “ It is definitely smart to provide a place where everyone can feel heard and acknowledged. It is also a great way to maintain social relationships when we are all so isolated in comparison to how life was before COVID.”

Onolfo maintains that it is important for the college to use its resources to assist students, as so much of a student’s success relies on mental health.

Peter McHugh, director of media relations and strategic communications at MC, expressed that the counseling center and the One Manhattan team have a duty to assist students throughout this time.

“The Counseling Center plays a vital role in prioritizing students’ emotional well-being right now,” McHugh said. “The administration, specifically the Student Life division, is doing all that it can to promote those services to students.”

McHugh shared that the OneManhattan team has expanded the resources available to students. This includes having a staff member dedicated to attending to students in quarantine, on top of the staff from Residence Life and Dining Services who assist those in quarantine, specifically with meals.

Additionally, McHugh emphasized that the One Manhattan team regularly offers communication to quarantine students, and has worked in collaboration with the Office of Student Engagement to increase the amount of virtual activities and events that are available to students both in quarantine and out.

“Students need to know that everyone working on the One Manhattan Team has their best interests in mind,” McHugh said. “Not only is the One Manhattan team prioritizing the physical health of all students, they’re working on making sure our students are mentally healthy too. This is not an easy time, but we can all get through it together.”

McHugh adds that the One Manhattan COVID-19 response plan has been designed following guidance and recommendations from federal, state and city health departments. These priorities remain the health and safety of the students, faculty and staff at MC.